What effect did lockdown have on your child’s immune system?

Scientists are getting to grips with the real effect that social distancing during the covid-19 lockdowns had on babies’ and young people’s immunity


31 January 2023

France. Normandy. Fecamp. Coronavirus. Marie and her son Gaston, totally confined to the house. Both are infected with the virus,??that day the symptoms were strong. Few days later Marie and Gaston will be recovered from the virus and fine again.

The number of children hospitalised for severe infections dropped in 2020-2021

Jean Gaumy/Magnum Photos

IT IS a question high in the minds of many parents and carers of infants born during the first years of the covid-19 pandemic: have lockdowns and social distancing had a long-term effect on babies’ health? The good news is that these concerns are largely underpinned by misunderstandings over how the immune system is shaped during our first years of life.

It is clear that pandemic public health measures have had an impact on children’s exposure to bacteria and viruses that cause illness. When strict social distancing rules were in place, the capacity for infections to spread was dramatically reduced.

An analysis of data from across England found that the number of children below the age of 15 admitted to hospital with influenza between March 2020 and June 2021 dropped by 94 per cent. It wasn’t just flu that was affected: the analysis found reductions in child hospitalisations in 18 of the 19 infections they looked at, including mumps, measles, croup, tonsillitis and bronchiolitis.

This leaves lockdown babies in a different position to the average infant. Typically, around 90 per cent of UK children have had an infection by the age of 1, for instance, but an analysis of babies born during Ireland’s first lockdown found that less than half of 12-month-olds experienced any infections during their first year.

Fewer infections

Fortunately, we don’t actually need to get sick when we are very young. Infections like flu are more likely to lead to serious complications, such as pneumonia, in young children, especially those under …

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