A new study from researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center suggests that children and teens who have previously been infected with COVID-19 develop natural antibodies that can last for months after the initial infection.
Starting in October 2020, the researchers looked at three separate draws of blood, each a couple months apart, from 218 children between the ages of five and 19 years of age. The participants were part of the Texas Coronavirus Antibody REsponse Survey, aka CARES, which started before the vaccine became available.
Of the 218 participants, 75, or 34.4%, tested positive for antibodies with their first sample. During the second draw, two of the 75 went from positive to negative for antibodies. The researchers found that 96% of participants who had antibodies in the second drawing continued to have natural antibodies to the virus after the third one.
"These findings are important because the information we collected from children infected with COVID-19 didn't differ at all by whether a child was asymptomatic, severity of symptoms, when they had the virus, were at a healthy weight or had obesity, or by gender. It was the same for everyone,” said Sarah Messiah, corresponding author of the study and professor of epidemiology, human genetics, and environmental sciences at UTHealth School of Public Health Dallas campus
Still, 58% of the samples were negative for infection-induced antibodies at the third and final measurement, which means that vaccination is still a key component in protection against the virus, even for those who have previously contracted it.
“Adult literature shows us that natural infection, plus the vaccine-induced protection, gives you the best defense against COVID-19. There has been a misunderstanding from some parents who think just because their child has had COVID-19, they are now protected and don't need to get the vaccine,” Messiah explained.
“While our study is encouraging in that some amount natural antibodies last at least six months in children, we still don't know the absolute protection threshold. We have a great tool available to give children additional protection by getting their vaccine, so if your child is eligible, take advantage of it.”
To date, 14 million children in the United States have tested positive for COVID-19.