Burden of SARS-CoV-2 and protection from symptomatic second infection in children

medRxiv [Preprint]. 2022 Jan 5:2022.01.03.22268684. doi: 10.1101/2022.01.03.22268684.


Importance: The impact of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic on children remains unclear. Better understanding of the burden of COVID-19 among children and their protection against re-infection is crucial as they will be among the last groups vaccinated.

Objective: To characterize the burden of COVID-19 and assess how protection from symptomatic re-infection among children may vary by age.

Design: A prospective, community-based pediatric cohort study conducted from March 1, 2020 through October 15, 2021.

Setting: The Nicaraguan Pediatric Influenza Cohort is a community-based cohort in District 2 of Managua, Nicaragua.

Participants: A total of 1964 children aged 0-14 years participated in the cohort. Non-immunocompromised children were enrolled by random selection from a previous pediatric influenza cohort. Additional newborn infants aged ≤4 weeks were randomly selected and enrolled monthly, via home visits.

Exposures: Prior COVID-19 infection as confirmed by positive anti SARS-CoV-2 antibodies (receptor binding domain [RBD] and spike protein) or real time RT-PCR confirmed COVID-19 infection ≥60 days prior to current COVID-19.

Main outcomes and measures: Symptomatic COVID-19 cases confirmed by real time RT-PCR and hospitalization within 28 days of symptom onset of confirmed COVID-19 case.

Results: Overall, 49.8% of children tested were seropositive over the course of the study. There were also 207 PCR-confirmed COVID-19 cases, 12 (6.4%) of which were severe enough to require hospitalization. Incidence of COVID-19 was highest among children aged <2 years-16.1 per 100 person-years (95% Confidence Interval [CI]: 12.5, 20.5)-approximately three times that of children in any other age group assessed. Additionally, 41 (19.8%) symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 episodes were re-infections, with younger children slightly more protected against symptomatic reinfection. Among children aged 6-59 months, protection was 61% (Rate Ratio [RR]:0.39, 95% CI:0.2,0.8), while protection among children aged 5-9 and 10-14 years was 64% (RR:0.36,0.2,0.7), and 49% (RR:0.51,0.3-0.9), respectively.

Conclusions and relevance: In this prospective community-based pediatric cohort rates of symptomatic and severe COVID-19 were highest among the youngest participants, with rates stabilizing around age 5. Reinfections represent a large proportion of PCR-positive cases, with children <10 years displaying greater protection from symptomatic reinfection. A vaccine for children <5 years is urgently needed.

Key points: Question: What is the burden of COVID-19 among young children and how does protection from re-infection vary with age?Findings: In this study of 1964 children aged 0-14 years children <5 years had the highest rates of symptomatic and severe COVID-19 while also displaying greater protection against re-infection compared to children ≥10 years.Meaning: Given their greater risk of infection and severe disease compared to older children, effective vaccines against COVID-19 are urgently needed for children under 5.

Publication types

  • Preprint