Coronavirus resistance among children 'primed' by up to 12 common colds per year
Health, children, coronavirus, immunity - Jane Barlow / PA
Children could be protected from coronavirus because they catch cold as often as scientists have suggested.
Figures from the National Statistics Office (ONS) suggest that children are just as likely to get the virus, but few ever develop a serious illness or even show symptoms.
Now scientists have suggested that children may be resistant because their immune systems are well prepared for colds.
The cold is caused by four different types of corona viruses that circulate in the community and are largely harmless. While adults catch a cold about two to four times a year, school-age children fall ill on average 12 times a year, as studies have shown.
Professor Sir John Bell, Regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, told the House of Lords Science and Technology Selection Committee that it could potentially help young people build persistent resistance that adults do not have.
"How you respond may depend on the state of your existing immunity to coronaviruses in general," he told peers.
“There is currently interesting speculation that suggests that many people in young or middle age groups may have T cells that can already see coronavirus. It can offer some protection against this pathogen when it arrives.
"Many children get seasonal coronaviruses and it is quite common in our population and many generally have a fairly strong immunity to coronaviruses.
"This is not proven, but there is now evidence of cross-reactivity, at least at the T cell level, and that could help dampen the effects of the virus when we get it."
Studies have shown that around the age of four, around 70 percent of children have antibodies against the seasonal coronavirus that could offer important protection.
"It raises questions about what herd immunity is in this population," added Prof. Bell. "It is a very striking point that will drive model builders into a corner."
Professor Adrian Hayday, chair of the immunology department at King's College London, group leader of the Francis Crick Institute's immune surveillance laboratory, said that young people's immune systems can simply respond better to new viruses.
“After all, all adults over a certain age - 30 to 35 years - have no thymus, so their T cells check whether they have seen anything before, while children are very good at seeing things that are completely unknown.
"The problem could be that children can see this as something fresh."
The scientists also said that older people may suffer from immune cell senescence, which causes their immune cells to shut down but not be cleared away and replaced with a working version. Cell aging is involved in many aging diseases and can be behind the aging process itself.
But Prof. Bell said that for most people, the coronavirus is not a serious illness.
“The people who suffer and die from a serious illness, the vast majority are older people, and when young people suffer from this illness, they usually don't suffer very much.
"That could be the state of the immune system of people of different ages. 70 percent of people who get this are completely asymptomatic. So at one end of the spectrum it is not a bad vial disease, at the other end it is terrible.
"The vast majority of people who have this disease don't even know they had it."
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