Covid-19 variants and kidsPosted: April 01, 2021
New information is rapidly emerging about different COVID-19 variants and their effects on children. Our Le Bonheur experts are working to learn more about how the variants spread, if they cause more severe illness and if the currently approved vaccines will keep people protected.
What are COVID variants?
The variants that you have heard about in the news are genetic variants of the SARS‐CoV‐2 virus which caused COVID‐19. These variants have changes or mutations in the genes in the virus that may cause the virus to be more contagious, cause COVID‐19 illness to be more severe, or may cause immunity from past infection or vaccination to be less effective.
Why are these variants occurring? Was this expected?
Viruses, like SARS‐CoV‐2, constantly change through mutations that occur when the virus infects someone and make copies of itself. Coronaviruses do not mutate as much as other viruses, like influenza, but because of the recent, massive surge in cases, it is not surprising that variants have emerged. Most mutations that occur disappear and never come to our attention.
How many variants are there?
The CDC has divided variants into three groups based on how much information we have on the variant and how important it is. The category that a variant is placed in will change with time.
- Variants of Interest are variants with genetic changes that might affect how easily the virus spreads from person to person, how well it is detected by current testing methods, how it responds to treatments and its ability to escape our immune systems. As of March 16, there are 3 Variants of Interest being monitored in the U.S., 2 first found in New York and one from Brazil.
- Variants of Concern are those where we actually have some research that shows that the variant actually has one or more of the concerning characteristics. Currently CDC is monitoring 5 variants of concern including the variant from the United Kingdom which became the most common virus spreading in that country in the fall of 2020.
- Variants of High Consequence are those where we are concerned that what we are doing right now to prevent the spread of SARS‐CoV‐2 (e.g. masking, diagnostic tests etc) is not going to work as well for these variants. There are not variants in this category right now.
Are these variants widespread in the United States?
Some of these variants are in the United States (some were first identified here i.e. New York and California strains). Only time will tell us how widespread these variants will become but it is possible that one of these strains could become the dominant strain here as it did in the UK.
Can I be infected with one of the variants if I have had COVID‐19 or been vaccinated?
Many of the mutations in the virus are in the in the SARS‐CoV‐2 spike protein which the virus uses to attach to our cells and start and infection. The vaccines that we are currently using are all based on the spike protein from the virus that was identified at the outset of the pandemic. Currently, the vaccines we are using lead to very high levels of antibodies against the spike protein in our blood which will allow them to continue to be effective, especially in preventing severe infection.
Do we know how these variants effect children?
Infections caused by these variants are not expected to cause much more severe disease in children. In general, children have had much milder infections than adults with COVID‐19 and we don’t expect this to change. However, we are still learning about these variants and the effect on ability to cause infection or to cause more severe infection in anyone.
How can I protect myself from being infected with one of these variants?
The most important thing now is to not let our guard down and let the virus start spreading more. If the virus spreads more there will be more opportunity for mutations in the virus. We must continue to wear masks in public, practice social distancing and limiting gatherings of people. It also very important to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible because more vaccinated individuals mean less spread of the virus. Vaccine manufacturers are determining what they can do to help prevent the spread of these variants like boosting vaccine responses or potentially altering vaccines to make them more specific for the variants.