Many children already have coronavirus antibodies - the science explained

During the ongoing pandemic, children have been found to be a lot less likely than adults to become infected with Covid-19. Now, a new study has revealed that many children actually already have antibodies to combat other coronaviruses.

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Antibodies are protein components of the immune system which circulate in the blood and recognise foreign substances, like bacteria and viruses.

Many children have antibodies to other coronaviruses

Around one in five of the colds that children regularly catch are caused by viruses in the coronavirus family. Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in London found that some children already have antibodies to other coronaviruses, as a result of this.

Antibodies to those viruses may also block Covid-19, according to the new research, which was recently published in Science Magazine.

The research group, led by George Kassiotis (who heads up the Retroviral Immunology Laboratory at the Francis Crick institute), analysed blood samples from both adults and children who had not been infected with Covid-19.

Dr Kassiotis and his colleagues decided to develop the antibody test in March, examining blood samples taken before the pandemic from over 300 adults, and 48 children and adolescents.

They then compared these samples with those from more than 170 people who had been infected with Covid-19.

They found that around five per cent of 302 uninfected adult participants had antibodies that recognise the Covid-19 strain, while 60 per cent of uninfected participants aged six to 16 also did.

Can these antibodies block Covid-19?

The scientists found that many children, alongside some adults, carried one antibody in particular that can prevent coronaviruses, including Covid-19, from entering cells.

Put simply, this antibody attaches itself to a spike that sticks out of coronaviruses. Although the tip of the spike is unique to Covid-19, the base is found in all coronaviruses, according to Dr Kassiotis.

During lab tests, most blood samples from uninfected people showed that antibodies to the base of the spike blocked Covid-19 from infecting cells in lab dishes.