Scientists: COVID Restrictions Caused ‘Immunity Gap,’ Leading To Virus Uptick In Children

Scientists: COVID Restrictions Caused ‘Immunity Gap,’ Leading To Virus Uptick In Children

Cases of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and other viruses are rising across the nation, and scientists are now saying the uptick is due to measures put in place during the pandemic that restricted immune development.

The phenomenon is called an “immunity gap,” and essentially happened when restrictions and practices that were common during the pandemic limited the spread of viruses, leading to less people developing immunity to them. When people re-entered society, the viruses were back, too. 

Babies often receive antibodies for RSV through their mother’s breast milk, but even the mothers often weren’t exposed to RSV during lockdowns. 

Scientists Dr. Kevin Messacar and Rachel Baker discussed the issue with CNN and wrote about it this summer in The Lancet.

“Although many infections and their associated morbidity and mortality were prevented by [non-pharmaceutical interventions], decreased exposure to endemic viruses created an immunity gap—a group of susceptible individuals who avoided infection and therefore lack pathogen-specific immunity to protect against future infection,” Messacar and Baker wrote.

A CNN analysis revealed that cases of the respiratory virus started being observed this spring and are currently 60% higher than the highest week of 2021. The outlet said the number is likely higher.

Flu is also a concern, as the number of cases has been going up slightly sooner than is typical. Other nations are also seeing odd behavior of other respiratory infections like parainfluenza, adenovirus, and rhinovirus, according to CNN. 

“Now we’re seeing it’s spreading really well,” Baker said. “And it’s not just striking the kids that it would typically strike with that first birth cohort. It’s also creating infections in older kids.” 

“That’s how infectious diseases work,” she noted. “Once you have more cases, they create more cases, and you get this spike.”

As The Daily Wire reported last week, hospitals in the Southern and Northeastern regions of the U.S. are seeing an increase in children coming in with RSV. 

“We have observed a rise in RSV in multiple U.S. regions, and some regions are nearing seasonal peak levels,” a CDC spokesperson told NBC News.

Dr. Buddy Creech, who works in pediatric infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center also said pandemic restrictions played a role.

“What we lacked is a couple of years of little kids developing the immunity that’s needed to keep these colds at bay,” Creech said. “We may be in for a rough six or seven weeks with influenza and RSV.”

Infants and young children are being hit the hardest by the spike in cases. 

“There is no one virus that’s causing pediatric respiratory viruses this fall,” Dr. Deanna Behrens, a pediatric critical care physician at a Chicago hospital, said. “Unfortunately, it’s all of them.” 

“We see kids where, when we do the nasal swab, not only do they test positive for influenza, but they may have RSV or enterovirus or adenovirus at the same time,” Dr. Mark Kline, physician-in-chief at Children’s Hospital New Orleans, reiterated. “We’ve seen kids where we’ve gotten two or three viruses at once.”