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
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.
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 …