The short answer is yes. A lot of studies have shown that COVID-19 isn’t as severe in children, particularly younger kids – but that doesn’t mean kids aren’t at risk of getting infected and potentially spreading the virus.
Children under 12 who get COVID-19 do tend to have mild illnesses or no symptoms, while teenagers seem to have responses somewhere between what adults and younger kids have experienced. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that teens were about twice as likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19 as children ages 5-11.
Researchers are still trying to understand why we’re seeing these differences between older and younger kids. Behavior probably plays a part. Teenagers are more likely to engage in social or group activities, and they may or may not be wearing masks. Immune differences and biologic factors may also play a role. Non-SARS-CoV-2 coronaviruses are common in children, often resulting in upper respiratory infection. Is their frequent exposure to other coronaviruses helping protect them from severe COVID-19? That is one hypothesis. We know younger kids’ immune responses in general are different from adults, and likely play a role in protection.
The key to minimizing the risk is to make sure kids eventually get vaccinated, follow social distancing recommendations and wear masks.
Right now, the Pfizer vaccine is the only one in the U.S. authorized for teenagers as young as 16. Before kids under 16 can be vaccinated, clinical trials need to be completed in thousands of young volunteers to assess the vaccines’ safety and efficacy, and the results must be fully reviewed and then authorized by the Food and Drug Administration.
Pfizer said it expects to submit results from its adolescent trials for review soon. Vaccine manufacturer Moderna also has trials underway with adolescents. If their vaccines are shown to be safe and effective and regulators authorize them, kids 12 and up could be vaccinated before school starts in the fall.
Realistically, young children probably won’t be eligible for the vaccine until late fall or winter at the earliest. Moderna announced in mid-March that it had started testing its vaccine in children ages 6 months to 11 years. Pfizer said it is also starting testing in young children, but these trials take time.