Yes, but the good news is that their risk may be lower than that of most adults. Chinese doctors first reported that children did not seem to be getting infected as easily as adults, and that they also did not need to be hospitalized as frequently as adults did. That trend seems to be holding true in the U.S. as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that compared to adults, children under the age of 18 are less likely to experience the typical symptoms of infection, including fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and are also less likely to need hospitalization and less likely to die of COVID-19.
That’s unusual for a respiratory disease, since viruses like influenza often strike the very young and the very old more aggressively, given their more vulnerable immune systems. “I can’t think of another situation in which a respiratory infection only affects adults so severely,” says Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, professor of pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine and chair of the committee on infectious diseases at the American Academy of Pediatrics. “This is not common at all; we just don’t know what is going on here.”
One theory is that the severest symptoms of COVID-19 in adults may be caused by an overactive immune response to the virus in the lungs, which can make breathing difficult. Children’s immune systems may not be developed enough to launch such an aggressive reaction, and that may spare them some of the infection’s worst consequences.
The data suggest that infants may be more likely to need hospitalization if they are infected compared to toddlers, but more studies are needed to better understand how the virus is affecting children overall. In the meantime, doctors recommend that parents consider children as vulnerable to infection as adults, and appreciate that young ones can spread the virus as effectively as adults too, even if they don’t have symptoms.