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This is for the young ones

Children, here are your most important Covid-19 questions answered

Children have not been included enough in the Covid-19 conversation but they, too, want to know about the virus, how it spreads and how it's prevented.

12 August 2021 - 06:00 By tanya farber
Speaking up Children have burning questions as they get used to a different world.
Speaking up Children have burning questions as they get used to a different world.
Image: REUTERS/Flavio Lo Scalzo

Prof Salim Abdool Karim is an infectious disease expert. On Tuesday this week, he spoke to a young radio host named Alex White, who is just 18 years old and who works with RX Radio which can be heard in children's hospital wards across the country.

The two were hosted by Daily Maverick Citizen, which wanted to give children a chance to have their questions answered.

As a child, can I get infected?

The first thing to know is that the virus itself is called SARS-CoV2. The clinical disease is called Covid-19. Children can get infected with SARS-CoV2. Just like adults, the cells in children’s bodies have a particular part where the virus can enter. Those cells are present in the nose and the back of the throat just as much as they're present in adults.

As a child, will I get very ill if I get infected?

Fortunately, children rarely get the clinical disease called Covid-19. They get infected but seldom get clinically ill. That's the same as influenza. It's the same virus that causes infection across all age groups — but if you're above 60, for example, you're far more likely to get sick or even die.

Can I, as a child, spread the virus?

Children can spread the disease to others but they spread it much less so. There are now three good studies on this topic. What has been found is that children get it less from an adult in the home, and children also spread it less when they get infected. So a child can spread the virus, but less so than older people.

What can I do as a child to help stop the spread?

What applies to adults applies to children too. Wearing a mask, social distancing, being outdoors or in a place with good ventilation, and washing your hands, are all good ways to help. If you’re under the age of six, a mask isn’t as necessary.

Please help me understand how vaccines work.

Viruses have an outer covering. It’s like an envelope. On that covering, there are proteins. If the body can recognise those proteins, they know to fight back — they know to mount an immune response. There are four different types of vaccines that are being made to fight Covid-19, but they all work well and are safe to use. More studies need to be done on whether they are good for children to use.

Should adults stop wearing masks after they have been vaccinated?

No! They must definitely carry on wearing masks. We mustn’t follow the not-so-good advice we are seeing in the US right now. There are mutations (changes) taking place in the virus and we get new variants (types) of the virus. So adults should carry on wearing masks after they’ve been vaccinated — for their own health and that of the community.

Is it OK for our schools to stay open until more people have been vaccinated?

Yes. In a school setting, there is just a small risk of getting infected. In fact it’s not particularly higher than if you were kept out of school. The one issue we have with schooling is when an outbreak happens because a teacher got infected in his or her community and then came to school and other teachers caught it. The way to stop the spread in school is to stop  using the staffroom for a while because that is where teachers gather, chat and eat together.