When kids ages 5 and older got the green light for Covid-19 vaccination, many parents breathed a collective sign of relief. But for parents with babies and toddlers too young to be vaccinated — and especially those too young to wear a mask — the threat of infection is ever-present. Vaccine trials for kids under 5 are ongoing, so there’s hope on the horizon, but in the meantime, plenty of young children have been — and will be — infected. So, if your toddler gets covid, do they have immunity afterward? It’s a valid question.
Covid Immunity Following Infection In Toddlers
“We do expect that a toddler will develop some immunity immediately following infection,” Dr. Stanley Spinner, Vice President and Chief Medical Officer at Texas Children’s Pediatrics & Texas Children’s Urgent Care, tells Romper.
This is great news for concerned parents, but the level of immunity and how long it lasts does vary from person to person, and toddlers are no exception. “We do not have sufficient data to determine how long the immunity may last. Immune responses to infection can vary much as they do with responses to vaccination,” Spinner explains.
How Do I Know If My Toddler Is Immune To Covid After Infection?
Blood tests do exist to check for the presence of covid antibodies in the bloodstream after infection, but experts caution that their understanding of what these tests mean with regard to immunity in kids is limited.
“In short, having a test that suggests Sars-CoV2 antibodies may suggest past infection, but this lab value has no bearing on how a child may react to future viral exposures,” Dr. Natasha Burgert, pediatrician and Forbes Health Advisory Board Member, tells Romper.
At present, Burgert says that she is not ordering these tests for her patients. Dr. Sarah Ash Combs, an emergency medicine physician with Children's National Hospital, also says that routine antibody testing is not necessary for kids.
“We don’t recommend routinely testing for immunity following covid infection in toddlers — or, for that matter, in children of any age,” Combs says. “The logic is as follows: While we can draw blood and search for any circulating covid antibodies, the presence of these antibodies does not necessarily mean that reinfection won’t occur and, thus, there is typically little clinical or real world value in obtaining this information.”
How Long Does Immunity Last In Toddlers?
So, once your toddler is infected, they may glean some level of immunity from covid for a short period of time. However, with multiple variants circulating and different risk factors at play for each individual, there’s just no way to know exactly how long that immunity will last.
“From past variants, we have learned that young children develop disease-induced immunity that lasts many weeks. However, it is not clear how well protected young children will be for additional variants over time,” Burgert tells Romper. “As a general rule, we assume young kids are protected for about three months against the same variant they were infected with.” Burgert adds that she has seen toddlers in her practice with symptomatic covid infections twice in a three-month period thanks to the back-to-back waves of the delta and omicron variants.
If your toddler has an underlying condition outside of covid, their immunity after infection may not last as long as others. “Typically those with underlying immune compromising conditions would be expected to have a diminished response immediately following the infection as well as waning protection over a shorter period of time,” Spinner tells Romper.
How Common Is Covid In Toddlers?
Since the pandemic began, infections in children have accounted for about 17% of all cases, according to data from the American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association. It’s well documented at this point that covid symptoms in kids are typically mild, but there is still a risk of severe illness and even hospitalization for some, including kids who are immunocompromised, have underlying health conditions like asthma, obesity, congenial heart disease, or other conditions, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Though it is rare, experts warn that post-infection complications like multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) can occur if your toddler gets covid. “This is a rare but serious condition that can occur some weeks out from an initial acute covid infection in which the child’s immune system essentially ‘overreacts’ resulting in inflammation throughout the body and its various organs,” Combs explains. “There is no way to predict if your child — or toddler — will be one of the unlucky few to develop this syndrome and, thus, it is best to try and avoid infection in the first place.” (There’s your answer in case you were asking “should we just go ahead and get infection over with.)
This means masking up, hand-washing, staying home when sick, and making sure that eligible kids and adults are vaccinated to help protect your toddler at home, Combs explains. “While many of us — myself included, as I have a 22-month-old at home — eagerly await a green light on vaccination for toddlers, the best defense is following those same protective measures that we’ve been taking for almost two years now.”
Of course, even when you’re following all of the health and safety measures available, it’s still possible for your toddler to get covid, especially with extremely contagious variants like omicron. A child in a family of vaccinated adults who are taking precautions is probably in a fairly good situation, Burgert says. “These efforts are resulting in much milder illness for the family unit as a whole, allowing parents to properly care for kids at home. And, in general, the toddlers are doing well with mild, symptomatic disease. I recommend talking with your pediatrician about how your family can best get through this wave of the pandemic, and how to prepare for the future.”
Dr. Natasha Burgert, pediatrician and Forbes Health Advisory Board Member
Dr. Sarah Ash Combs, emergency medicine physician, Children's National Hospital
Dr. Stanley Spinner, Vice President and Chief Medical Officer at Texas Children’s Pediatrics & Texas Children’s Urgent Care