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First results of the What’s the STORY (Serum Testing Of Representative Youngsters) trial indicate higher resilience of children to COVID-19 compared to other respiratory illnesses.

Boy and girl playing piggyback rides. © Image by Pexels

What’s the STORY – a study run by the Oxford Vaccine Group in collaboration with Public Health England and funded by the National Institute for Health Research – investigates the prevalence of COVID-19 in children. Assessing the rates of coronavirus infection and immunity in children and teenagers will help to identify their role in spreading the disease, thus providing essential data for guiding governmental response to the pandemic.

The nationwide trial, commenced in February 2020, is led by Professor Matthew Snape from the Oxford Vaccine Group. As part of the study, OVG researchers assess the participants’ immunity by checking for coronavirus antibodies – the presence of which indicates that a child has already had COVID-19, even though they might not necessarily have shown symptoms.

Initial results of the trial show that between 3 and 4 percent of children in the study tested positive for antibodies – however, of those who tested positive, fewer than 10 percent showed any symptoms of COVID-19. The proportion of participants with detected antibodies was much higher in London than in other study sites.

These results suggest that although very few children and teenagers are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, their infection rates are not that different from those seen in adults. Together with other studies this indicates COVID-19 does not spread readily via children, making it very different to other respiratory diseases, such as influenza. The finding “provides some reassurance when it comes to opening schools”, stated Professor Snape in an interview for BBC Newsnight.

More information about the study can be found on the What’s the STORY trial website, and the NIHR site.

Listen to Deb Cohen's interview with Professor Matthew Snape's on BBC Newsnight: