A study published Thursday found that children infected with the coronavirus produce fewer and weaker antibodies than adults.
While this finding sounds frightening, it may actually help answer long-standing questions about why children experience the virus differently than adults.
“We know that children are much less likely to get sick from the coronavirus,” said Apoorva Mandavilli, who covered the study. “This study indicates that they produce a less robust immune response to the virus, which, ironically, may be a good thing.”
There are three possible reasons:
First, fewer antibodies may indicate that children sick for a shorter period. (Usually, the sicker you are, the more antibodies you make.) Their weaker antibodies can indicate that children are defeating the virus before it has had a chance to wreak havoc on their bodies.
Second, less antibodies may also explain why children seem to transmit the virus less effectively. If they have fewer antibodies, it may mean that they have had lower levels of the virus.
“Having a ton of antibodies isn’t necessarily a marker of a good thing,” said Deepta Bhattacharya, an immunologist at the University of Arizona at Tucson. “It usually means something went wrong at the start of the response.”
Third, a weak immune response may explain why children are usually spared from severe symptoms. Other studies have suggested that too strong an immune response may be to blame in people who become seriously ill or die from Covid-19. A human body can harm itself by attacking a foreign pathogen, such as the virus.
Some experts called for caution in interpreting the results, especially since the study was small and samples were only collected at one point. In addition, children already have stronger innate immune systems than adults, so their bodies may be better able to eliminate disease.
Either way, having weaker and fewer antibodies doesn’t seem to mean children are at greater risk for re-infections.
“You don’t really need a huge, overly robust immune response to maintain the protections over a period of time,” Bhattacharya said. “I don’t know if I would be particularly worried about children having a slightly lower antibody response.”
College journalists have the scoop
As colleges have become a major source of coronavirus outbreaks, student journalists are on the front lines of a vital national history.
Amelia spoke to university journalists across the country. While reporting on their own campus communities, they often report news from their administrations and peers.
“It’s weird being a student talking about other students,” said Eli Hoff, 19, editor of The Maneater, a University of Missouri student newspaper. Hoff and his colleagues announced cases in the fraternities, which he said drew jokes and harassment from Greek members.
After the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill abandoned plans to open for in-person teaching, Elizabeth Moore filed for public records. She and her colleagues at the Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper, then published articles based on more than 3,000 pages of documents, exposing internal faculty dissent over the plans to reopen and the epidemiologists’ prior warning.
“You could see a direct line of the decisions they made in May,” said Moore, 20. “It ended up causing harm. Lots of people got sick and people were moved from dormitories.
This report is essential. In places without a strong local presence in the news, student journalists are sometimes the only reporters left in town. As student epidemics often spread beyond the dormitories and affect local economies, their work is especially important.
Here are some great pieces of student journalism from the pandemic:
Over 252,000 university cases
An updated New York Times survey of more than 1,700 US colleges and universities shows more than 252,000 cases and at least 80 deaths since the start of the pandemic. Most of the cases have been announced since the students returned to campus for the fall term; more than 38,000 cases have been added since the end of October.
Most of the deaths were reported in the spring and involved college employees. But at least three students – Jamain Stephens, a football player at the University of California, Pennsylvania; Chad Dorrill, second year student at Appalachian State University; and Grace College student Bethany Nesbitt (see below) – have died in recent weeks after contracting the virus.
With no national tracking system and statewide data available only sporadically, colleges set their own rules for how to count infections. While the Times survey is considered the most comprehensive account available, it is also an undercount.
Around the country
Single parenthood in a pandemic
“The hardest thing about single parenthood in the pandemic has been the abyss of loneliness associated with responsibilities that cannot be fulfilled,” Andrea Luttrell wrote for The Times’ Parenting section. “My son needs help navigating a remote school; it’s a situation designed for stay-at-home parents, but I can’t afford not to work. And I am one of the lucky ones. … I’m luckier and I feel like I’m drowning.
Sign up here to receive the briefing by email.