Children and adolescents are generally less likely to get COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, than older individuals; however, a new study suggests that they could face their own physical or mental struggles due to the pandemic.

The study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), described a few potential adverse effects of COVID-19 on the physical and mental health of children. It also described some interventional strategies that could help clinicians and health care systems.

Dr. Neil Chanchlani of the University of Exeter said, “While children and young people seem rarely to be victims of severe COVID-19, we should anticipate that they will experience substantial indirect physical, social, and mental health effects related to reduced access to health care and general pandemic control measures.”

In the study, the researchers mentioned that “delays in seeking care for non-COVID-19-related illnesses can lead to severe illness and even death, widespread delays or omissions of routine childhood vaccinations can threaten herd immunity, and missed detection of delayed development milestones are usually identified during routine child health checks.”

Clinician and investigator Dr. Peter Gill from The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), Toronto, Canada, said, “Delays in bringing children and young people to medical attention may be due to parental fears of exposure to COVID-19 in hospitals or on public transit, lack of childcare for other children, lack of access to primary care due to closures, or changes to hospital visitation policies.”

The researchers explained that families residing in crowded housing could experience heightened stress, which can affect the physical and mental health of children.

Children from low-income families who have financial strain and food insecurity are particularly vulnerable to mental health issues during the pandemic.

Forced isolation, economic uncertainty, cancellations of child welfare visits, school cancellations, poor social interactions, and decreased physical activities are some of the common contributing factors.

Study co-author Francine Buchanan from SickKids said, “We need to better understand what goes into the decisions families make regarding the complex needs of their children during this pandemic and how we can better support them. Both practical and personal considerations need to be taken into account.”

The investigators have suggested a few interventional strategies – such as clear communication to communities and families that child health services are open, alternative solutions to deliver medical care, how children can contract and spread COVID-19, and how to prevent the infection. The authors concluded, “We owe it to our children and young people to proactively measure the COVID-19 pandemic’s indirect effects on their health and to take steps to mitigate the collateral damage.”