As parents debate whether to have their children vaccinated, specter of juvenile long COVID looms

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A healthcare worker at a hospital in Havana, Cuba, administers a dose of vaccine to a 14-year-old boy. Credit: Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters
A healthcare worker at a hospital in Havana, Cuba, administers a dose of vaccine to a 14-year-old boy. Credit: Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters

Most people who survive COVID-19 recover completely. But for some, the poorly understood condition that’s become known as long COVID can last for months — maybe even years. Nobody yet knows.

The condition was first described in adults. But several studies have now reported a similar phenomenon, including symptoms such as headache, fatigue and heart palpitations, in children, even though they rarely suffer from severe initial symptoms of COVID-19.

Estimates of how common long COVID is in children vary wildly. Researchers say that pinning this down is crucial… Getting solid numbers is “very, very important,” says Pia Hardelid, a child-health epidemiologist at University College London.

Hardelid tapped into data gathered by the Virus Watch study, which tracks infections and symptoms in more than 23,000 households across England and Wales. As they reported in a preprint in June, she and her colleagues found that 4.6% of children with evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection had persistent symptoms lasting more than four weeks.

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A proper definition of long COVID is urgently needed, says Hardelid, so that studies can determine how much of a problem it presents in children, and which children are most at risk.

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