In people with mild forms of COVID-19, asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic, the antibody response of children to SARS-CoV-2 virus is greater and more durable than that of adults
In particular, children aged 0-3 years may develop neutralizing antibody titres 7-8 times higher than those seen in the adult population up to 7-8 months after infection.
These are the results of an observational study conducted by researchers from the University of Padua and the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie, in collaboration with the Azienda Ospedaliera di Padova, the Fondazione Penta ONLUS and the Ospedale Pediatrico Bambino Gesù. The research has just been published in the scientific journal Pediatrics.
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The superior antibody response in children described by the researchers makes it plausible that children are better protected than adults after a second exposure to the virus.
The study included 57 families affected by COVID 19 during the first wave of the pandemic and assisted by the Hospital University of Padua, as part of its long-term follow-up program for families.
The program originated from the collaboration between the Department of Women’s and Children’s Health, the Department of Surgical Oncology and Gastroenterological Sciences (Prof. Anita de Rossi) and the Department of Medicine (Prof. Mario Plebani).
The polyclinic is very active and currently follows about 300 families in close collaboration with pediatricians in the Veneto region.
The quantification of neutralizing antibodies was made possible thanks to an experimental test developed by the virologists of the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie.
The data analysis was performed by researchers from the field of Clinical Immunology and Vaccinology of the Bambino Gesù, led by Prof. Paolo Palma.
“Knowing that children develop antibodies that can neutralize the virus for many months is evidence of absolute importance, as the use of the vaccine is currently limited to people over 12 years of age.
The application of vaccination in pediatric settings will depend on a full understanding of the mechanisms underlying the immune response in children and on proper communication of scientific data to the competent authorities and the community.
However, we must remember that while the antibody response in children is more powerful and durable than we imagined, it is not enough on its own to guarantee complete protection against Covid-19.
It is therefore important to continue our studies on the role of cell-mediated immunity,” explains Carlo Giaquinto, professor of pediatrics at the University of Padua, president of the Penta Onlus Foundation and coordinator of the study.
“In the second half of 2021, the EMA (European Medicines Agency) is expected to issue a statement on the safety and efficacy of current vaccines in very young (2-5 years) and young (6-11 years) subjects.
Our data will be fundamental to determine the modalities and timing of vaccination in pediatric populations previously exposed to the virus,” said Francesco Bonfante, virologist at the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale delle Venezie and co-author of the paper.
“In addition,” Bonfante added, “the current EU Digital COVID certificate will be valid for 6 months for all unvaccinated individuals who are cured of COVID-19, regardless of age.
Our study lays the foundation for an evaluation of the renewal of the certificate for pediatric populations under 6 years of age.”
The results of the research were co-supported by the European projects ORCHESTRA (HORIZON 2020, no. 101016167) and RECOVER (HORIZON 2020, no. 101003589) and financially supported by the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Padova e Rovigo, COVID-19 Research Projects.
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