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Most Children Who Contract COVID-19 Make a Full Recovery, New Research Suggests

Young girl wearing a mask, holding teddy bear wearing a mask on a couch


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Key Takeaways

  • Most children with COVID-19 make a quick recovery and don't require medical care, say new studies.
  • However, it's important that kids still wear masks to reduce the risk of infection, both to themselves and others.
  • Experts agree that vaccination is the best preventative measure to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Kids are just as likely to get COVID-19 as adults, but research led by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) in 2020 suggests that most children have mild symptoms and don’t require medical care. Additionally, most kids with COVID-19 make a complete recovery within weeks of getting infected.

One study, published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, found that 171 children aged under 18 years tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 in Victoria, Australia between March and October 2020. Of those 171, 58% had mild disease, 36% were asymptomatic, and 5% had moderate disease. All the children recovered well. The most common long-term symptoms (cough and fatigue) did not last longer than eight weeks.

Another study, published in The Medical Journal of Australia, involved 16 hospitals across Australia. Researchers analyzed data on 393 kids who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 from February through September 2020. Only 44 of the children were admitted to the hospital, and three of those children needed intensive care.

What These Studies Mean

This research concludes that children are less likely to become severely sick or hospitalized from COVID-19.

As a pediatrician, Kelly Fradin, MD, FAAP, is thankful that children experience lower rates of serious health complications such as hospitalization and death due to COVID-19. “However, low risk is not no risk,” she warns. “When millions of children get sick, even rare complications like the multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) add up. Additionally, considerable uncertainty remains about the long-term outcomes from COVID-19.” 

While kids might be less likely to end up in intensive care or die from COVID-19 than adults, it has happened. This has occurred both in children with and without pre-existing medical conditions, says David Vu, MD, MS, pediatric infectious disease specialist at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, California. This is why it is important to continue wearing masks.

While masks do not eliminate the possibility of getting infected, they serve two important purposes, Dr. Vu explains. First, they reduce the risk of infection for the person wearing the mask. Second, they reduce the risk of infecting others if the wearer is asymptomatically infected.

The Importance of Vaccinations 

“The best way to reduce the risk of severe disease and death is vaccination,” Dr. Vu says. “While it is unclear how well the current vaccines protect against infection by the Delta variant that is the dominating variant circulating worldwide, the current vaccines still help reduce the severity of symptoms and reduce the risk of death.”

We know this, Dr. Vu explains, because most (over 90%) of the ICU admissions and deaths in the recent months have occurred in unvaccinated individuals. He also points out that there are 10 times as many infections in unvaccinated people compared to those who are vaccinated, which means that vaccination makes a substantial difference in reducing infection risk.

Dr. Fradin agrees. “We are in the home stretch of this pandemic and when vaccines are available to offer children an additional level of protection we can loosen our precautions,” she says. “In my opinion, children deserve to be protected from infection by using vaccines and masks as recommended—particularly when the Delta variant is so infectious and rates of infection are surging.”

It’s also important for adults in unvaccinated kids’ lives to get their own shots—an important intervention that reduces the risk of infecting those children, Dr. Vu says.

Reducing COVID-19 Cases in Children

Children 12 and up can prevent COVID-19 infection by getting vaccinated, but it can also be a community effort, says Dr. Fradin. “In areas with high vaccination rates, fewer COVID-19 cases will occur and this will decrease the risk of children being exposed and getting sick,” she explains. “Communities can protect children by encouraging everyone eligible to be vaccinated.”

Kelly Fradin, MD, FAAP

Communities can protect children by encouraging everyone eligible to be vaccinated.

— Kelly Fradin, MD, FAAP

This public health measure is called “cocooning.” “We also use it to protect newborn babies against illnesses such as influenza and pertussis,” explains pediatrician Florencia Segura, MD, FAAP. “Everyone around the unvaccinated child (or baby)—family, babysitters, friends—needs to be current on all vaccines, creating ‘herd immunity’ for the child.”

Masking indoors is an important preventive measure to decrease transmission rates, especially for those who haven’t yet been vaccinated, Dr. Fradin adds. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends masks in schools for everyone over the age of 2 regardless of vaccination status.

“In addition to universal masking, hand hygiene and increased school ventilation will make in-person learning as safe as possible,” says Dr. Segura.

What This Means For You

COVID-19 restrictions may be easing, but it is important to continue to take safety precautions, such as wearing masks, performing good hand hygiene, and physical distancing. Encourage your child to do the same.

If your child shows any symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever, cough, or loss or change of their sense of taste or smell, attend your local testing facility or take an at-home test.


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Article Sources
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  1. Say D, Crawford N, McNab S, Wurzel D, Steer A, Tosif S. Post-acute COVID-19 outcomes in children with mild and asymptomatic disease. Lancet Child Adolesc Health. 2021;5(6):e22-e23. doi:10.1016/S2352-4642(21)00124-3

  2. Ibrahim LF, Tham D, Chong V, et al. The characteristics of SARS‐CoV‐2‐positive children who presented to Australian hospitals during 2020: a PREDICT network study. Med J Aust. Published online August 13, 2021. doi:10.5694/mja2.51207

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics updates recommendations for opening schools in fall 2021. Published July 19, 2021.