Children Have Better COVID Immune Response Than Adults

Ralph Ellis

September 25, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

A new study says children infected with coronavirus may fare better than adults because they have a better immune system response.

Researchers studied 65 children and 60 adults with COVID-19 at a hospital system in New York City and found the children stayed in the hospital shorter periods of time, needed ventilators less often, and had a lower death rate, according to the study published in Science Translational Medicine.

Those findings fell in line with what other scientists had noticed: Children don't get as sick with coronavirus as adults do. The CDC, for instance, says around eight children per 100,000 were hospitalized with COVID-19, compared to 164.5 adults per 100,000. But scientists are not sure why this happens.

By looking at blood and cell samples, the researchers found that the children produced higher levels of two cytokines, or immune system proteins, than adults, the study said.

The cytokine interleukin 17A (IL-17A) helps prompt an immune system response early in an infection, and interferon gamma (IFN-γ) tries to stop the virus from replicating, according to Yahoo Life. The younger the patient, the higher the level of those cytokines.

Those two cytokines especially helped ward off lung problems -- one of the defining problems of coronavirus, the study said.

"Takeaway message: Kids do get infected and can get very sick but, in general, do better when infected with the virus," study co-author Betsy C. Herold, MD, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, told Yahoo Life. "This age-associated difference may reflect differences in immune responses."

The researchers said it might help COVID-19 patients to find a way to boost certain types of immune responses.

Herod, quoted in Market Watch, said that might be something vaccine manufacturers want to look into. Vaccines now under study mostly try to increase antibody levels.

"We may want to consider assessing vaccines that promote immunity in other ways, such as by bolstering the innate immune response," she said.