A child’s guide to COVID-19

A set of frequently asked questions to help children understand COVID-19

UNICEF ECARO
A girl wearing pink mask is standing in the school's corridor.
© UNICEF/UN0362321/Pancic
30 September 2021

As the COVID-19 virus continues to spread around the world, many children like you are keen to get answers to their burning questions about the disease and what they can do to help protect themselves from it. We hope you find this helpful.

 

1.What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a disease caused by a virus that can spread through the air and land on surfaces. The virus gets its name through the combination of its syllables: ‘CO’ from ‘corona’ – the latin word for ‘crown’, because the outer ring of the virus looks crown-shaped under a microscope, ‘VI’ for virus and ‘D’ for disease. The number ‘19’ refers to the year it was first discovered: 2019. 

2. How can I get COVID-19?

You can get the virus by being in close contact with infected people who discharge small droplets when they sneeze, cough, laugh, sing, speak or even breathe. You can also be infected by touching surfaces that have been contaminated by the virus and then touching your eyes, nose or mouth without cleaning your hands.

3. How do you know if you have COVID-19?

People with COVID-19 can have a number of symptoms (a change in the body that shows something is wrong), or they may have no symptoms at all! These symptoms often include a fever, cough, headache and/or tiredness.  Sometimes people also report losing their sense of taste and smell, having problems breathing or a sore throat. Whether they have symptoms or not, people with COVID-19 can be highly infectious, meaning that they can easily spread the virus to other people. As it can be difficult to know who has the virus, it is important to be careful when you are around other people outside your home.

4. Can children and young people catch COVID-19?

Yes, anyone can catch the COVID-19 virus and spread it to others.  Children don’t usually become seriously ill from the disease unless they have other health problems that put them at more risk, but even so we all need to be careful. 

5. What should I do to protect myself and others from the virus?

You can help protect yourself and your friends and family  in simple ways such as:

  • by keeping a safe distance between yourself and other people – at least 1 metre or about twice the length of your outstretched arms. 
  • by avoiding crowded or closed spaces where there isn’t much air flow. It’s also a good idea to keep windows and doors open and to enjoy activities outdoors, whenever possible. 
  • by regularly washing your hands with soap and water or using an alcohol-based sanitizer, and avoiding touching your eyes, mouth, and nose.
  • by coughing/sneezing into your elbow or tissue, and disposing of the used tissue immediately in a closed bin.

6. How can I keep safe when going to and at school?

Remember that there are many things you can do to help protect yourself on your way to school, when you’re in the classroom and when you’re returning home.

  • Avoid crowded public transport if you can. Discuss with your parents if there is an alternative, such as walking or cycling. If you need to get a bus or train, try to keep your distance from others while on board.
  • Wash your hands regularly - when you arrive at school, in breaks during the day and after going to the toilet
  • In the classroom and corridors, remember to keep a safe space between yourself and other students.
  • Do not share knives and forks, plates, or your food at mealtimes.
  • Wear a mask covering your mouth and nose, if it is recommended for you.
  • If you start to feel unwell at school, tell your teacher straight away.

7. Do I need to wear a mask?

Every country has its own recommendation on the use of masks. Make sure you know what the recommendation in your country, city or school is. You may ask your parents or teachers about it.  If you need to wear a mask, wear it like a superhero: 

  • When putting it on, make sure you adjust it to cover your mouth, nose and chin. 
  • While wearing it, do not touch its front because it may be dirty or contaminated.
  • Keep it always in the right place; do not place it under the chin or nose; and do not remove it to talk to others. Do not use a mask when doing sports or sleeping.
  • If you have difficulty breathing with a mask, take it off for a while and inform your parents and teachers about it.

8. Many talk about the COVID-19 variants: what are they?

Viruses commonly mutate (in other words they change in form over time). Each change is very small, but after many such changes the virus’ form and characteristics become different enough to be called a ‘variant’ of the original virus. Some variants of COVID-19 are more transmissible (able to spread easier) and can also cause more serious illness.

As the pandemic has continued, we have seen new variants emerging, some of them more harmful than the original virus. This is why we need to continue being careful and protecting ourselves and others. 

9. Do children need to have a COVID-19 vaccine?

COVID-19 vaccines are not yet available for children below 12 years old. As most children don’t get seriously ill from COVID-19, at this stage vaccination is not recommended for children. However, children and adolescents older than 12 with health problems, such as diabetes, lung or heart disease or other chronical diseases that might put them at high risk, may be offered COVID-19 vaccine alongside with other priority groups, to give them extra protection against the virus.

10. Are COVID-19 vaccines safe?

Yes. COVID-19 vaccines have been thoroughly tested and are found to be safe. They have also proven to be very good at reducing the chances of people getting seriously ill or dying from COVID-19. Thanks to the joint work of scientists and research organizations across the world, safe COVID-19 vaccines were developed in record time.

11. How do vaccines work?

When our body is attacked by a virus or bacteria that causes a disease, our immune system (the body’s natural defense) produces an army of soldiers, called ‘antibodies’. These antibodies fight off infection from the invading disease. When the body is attacked for the first time by this particular invader, the immune system has to build this new army and this can take time – during this time the person can get very sick and maybe even die. The COVID-19 vaccine works to train the immune system so it will be prepared for the virus or bacteria.  It tells our immune system to build antibodies in advance, so they are ready to attack and can defeat the invading virus or bacteria before it has the chance to make the body very sick.

12. What should I do if I think I have COVID-19?

If you have a cough, fever, headache, sore throat or have trouble breathing, inform your parents or your teacher immediately. It may or may not be COVID-19 but it is good to be tested straight away just in case. If the test shows that you have the virus, don’t be scared. Follow your parents' and doctor's advice so you can recover quickly. Do not go to school while sick and do not come into close contact with others outside your home, including your friends. Stay at home and rest.

13. What else can I do to help fight against COVID-19?

Learn more about COVID-19 and tell your family and friends how they can protect themselves from it by sharing some of the tips in this guide.