COVID-19 and kids: B.C. study testing for antibodies in children and young adults

Researchers in B.C. are launching a new study to learn more about how many children and young people have had COVID-19 infections in the province. They’ll be looking for thousands of volunteers over the course of the next year, who will help them determine whether the number of positive tests we see tells the whole story.

The study will look for the presence of COVID-19 antibodies in people aged 24 and younger. UBC associate professor of pediatrics Dr. Manish Sadarangani told CTV about 300 have enrolled so far.

“Part of the study is really to understand if there is a lot of asymptomatic infection happening, so a lot of kids who don’t have symptoms who have been infected, over the course of the pandemic,” he said. “And also then to get a better understanding of how that might affect public health measures going forward.”

As of the end of November, the highest number of COVID-19 cases in BC were among people aged 20 to 29, at 7,692, according to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. There have been 2,893 cases among children aged 10 to 19. Children under 10 have recorded 1,303 cases, the third lowest among known age categories in the province.

“In terms of the numbers that have tested positive, the numbers of children have been, you know to me as a pediatric infectious disease specialist, surprisingly low given what we know about all other viral infections,” Dr. Sadarangani said.

Those who volunteer will ultimately receive a home testing kit to collect blood samples by pricking a finger, or heel for babies, which they can then mail in for analysis. Participants will be told their results, but Dr. Sadarangani cautioned antibodies don’t necessarily mean immunity to the virus.

“We still don’t understand if antibodies themselves are enough to say you’re protected against infection, and if they are, then how much antibody is sufficient,” he said.

Dr. Sadarangani said researchers will also be comparing information from participants who have been infected with those who haven’t, to try and understand more about potential risk factors in that specific demographic. 

He added not everyone who is infected develops antibodies, and over time, antibody levels also decrease.

“So it may have been that somebody who was infected very, very early on in the pandemic, may not have a measurable antibody level,” he said. “Part of the reason for having the big number (of participants) is to try and overcome some of those limitations and to get an accurate picture.”

The research team is looking for 2,500 participants initially, and plan to share results in real time. Anyone interested in participating can get more information here.