SARS-CoV-2 infection of children leads to a mild illness and the immunological differences with adults are unclear. Here, we report SARS-CoV-2 specific T cell responses in infected adults and children and find that the acute and memory CD4 + T cell responses to structural SARS-CoV-2 proteins increase with age, whereas CD8 + T cell responses increase with time post-infection. Infected children have lower CD4 + and CD8 + T cell responses to SARS-CoV-2 structural and ORF1ab proteins when compared with infected adults, comparable T cell polyfunctionality and reduced CD4 + T cell effector memory. Compared with adults, children have lower levels of antibodies to β-coronaviruses, indicating differing baseline immunity. Total T follicular helper responses are increased, whilst monocyte numbers are reduced, indicating rapid adaptive co-ordination of the T and B cell responses and differing levels of inflammation. Therefore, reduced prior β-coronavirus immunity and reduced T cell activation in children might drive milder COVID-19 pathogenesis.
Why children are generally less susceptible than adults to COVID-19 is unclear and has not extensively been examined longitudinally. Here the authors compare antibodies, cytokines and immune cell responses in adults and children over 6 months post-infection showing, among other things, a reduced CD4+ and CD8+ T cell response in children.