COVID-19: What parents should know

Tips and guidance for protecting your family during the COVID-19 pandemic.

UN analysis on social impacts of COVID-19
UNICEF Viet Nam\Hoang Hiep
08 December 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the lives of children and their families around the world. UNICEF is working with health experts to promote facts over fear, bringing trustworthy guidance and answering some of the questions that families might have.


What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is an infectious respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. ‘CO’ stands for corona, ‘VI’ for virus, and ‘D’ for disease.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Many COVID-19 symptoms are similar to those of the flu, the common cold and other conditions, so a test is required to confirm if someone has COVID-19. Symptoms may appear 2 to 14 days after exposure to the virus and can range from very mild to severe illness. Some people who have been infected don’t have any symptoms.

The most common symptoms are fever, cough, and tiredness. Other symptoms can include shortness of breath, chest pain or pressure, muscle or body aches, headache, loss of taste or smell, confusion, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, and skin rashes. In addition to these symptoms, infants may have difficulty feeding.

Children of any age can become ill with COVID-19. While children and adults experience similar symptoms, children generally have less serious illness than adults.

Symptoms requiring urgent medical attention include difficulty breathing/fast or shallow breathing (also grunting, inability to breastfeed in infants), blue lips or face, chest pain or pressure, confusion, inability to awaken/not interacting, inability to drink or keep down any liquids and severe stomach pain.  

How does the COVID-19 virus spread?

The virus can spread from an infected person’s mouth or nose in small droplets when they cough, sneeze, speak, sing or breathe. These particles can range in size from larger respiratory droplets to smaller aerosols, and people can be contagious whether or not they are displaying symptoms.

A person can be infected when aerosols or droplets containing the virus are inhaled or come directly into contact with the eyes, nose, or mouth. The virus can also spread in poorly ventilated and/or crowded indoor settings, where people tend to spend longer periods of time. Indoor locations, particularly those with poor ventilation, are riskier than outdoor locations.

People may also become infected by touching their mouth, nose or eyes after touching surfaces contaminated with the virus. Experts are continuing their research into how COVID-19 spreads, and which situations are most risky.

Are the COVID-19 vaccines safe and effective?

Yes, even though COVID-19 vaccines have been developed as rapidly as possible, they must go through rigorous testing in clinical trials to prove that they meet internationally agreed benchmarks for safety and effectiveness. Only if they meet these standards can a vaccine receive validation from WHO and national regulatory agencies.

>> Read more about the COVID-19 vaccines.

How do COVID-19 vaccines work?


>> Read: How to talk to your children about COVID-19 vaccines

>> Read: Advice for before, during and after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine

>> Read: How to talk to your friends and family about COVID-19 vaccines

Will my child be able to get the COVID-19 vaccine? 

Children are not amongst the priority groups for receiving COVID-19 vaccines and that this will remain the case for many countries in the world. This is because the focus is on protecting those most at risk of severe disease and death due to COVID-19 – the elderly, those with other illnesses and front line health workers. These populations must be vaccinated prior to the vaccination of children. However, it is advisable to follow your local and national health guidelines, including when and if your child should receive the vaccine.

>> Read more about the COVID-19 vaccines

I’ve heard about a variant called Omicron. How concerned should I be?

It’s normal for viruses to mutate over time. Experts are constantly monitoring new variants of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, including Omicron, to see if they spread more easily, cause more severe disease, or could have an impact on the effectiveness of vaccines. For the moment, we don’t have answers to all these questions.

New variants like Omicron are a reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over. It is therefore essential that people get the vaccine when available to them and continue to follow existing guidance on preventing the spread of the virus, including physical distancing, wearing masks, regular handwashing and keeping indoor areas well ventilated.

Ultimately, as long as the virus is allowed to keep spreading anywhere in the world, it has more chances to mutate into new variants like Delta and Omicron. The clearest pathway out of the pandemic is to ensure every country has equal access to the tools to fight COVID – tests, treatments and life-saving vaccines. The more people get protected globally, the less room for new variants to emerge, and the sooner we can end the pandemic and return to normal.

Are any of these new COVID-19 variants more dangerous for children? 

Experts are continuing to monitor these variants around the world to better understand their impact, including on children. So far, the evidence doesn’t suggest that these variants are specifically targeting children, and severe illness in young people remains relatively rare.

Parents should continue to encourage their children to take the same precautions as before to help prevent getting and spreading COVID-19.

Do the COVID-19 vaccines work against the new variants?

Experts around the world are continuously studying how the new variants affect the behaviour of the virus, including any potential impact on the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.

But in the meantime, the important thing to do is to get vaccinated and continue measures to reduce the spread of the virus – which helps to reduce the chances for the virus to mutate – including physical distancing, mask wearing, good ventilation, regular handwashing and seeking care early if you have symptoms.

I’ve been vaccinated, do I still need to get tested for COVID-19?

If you have been fully vaccinated but are showing symptoms of COVID-19, you should contact your doctor about whether you should get tested.

What is ‘Long COVID’? Can children be affected? 

Post COVID-19 condition, also sometimes referred to as ‘Long COVID,’ is a term used to describe symptoms persisting for weeks or months in some people after the initial recovery from COVID-19 infection. 

More research is needed to better understand the long-term effects of COVID-19, but young adults and children without underlying chronic medical conditions, as well as those who experienced mild symptoms during acute COVID-19 infection, have also been affected. The number of children with Long COVID is unclear, but surveys suggest symptoms in children can include fatigue, gastrointestinal problems, sore throats, headaches, and muscle pain and weakness. 

Children and adolescents may also be affected by multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), a rare but serious condition that appears to be linked to COVID-19. If your child or a family member is experiencing new or persistent symptoms following acute COVID-19 infection, you should consult your healthcare provider.

How can I protect myself and others from COVID-19?

Recent surges of COVID-19 in some countries are a reminder of the importance of continuing to take precautions. Here are some things you and your family can take to help avoid infection:

  • Avoid crowded places, confined and enclosed spaces with poor ventilation, and try to practice physical distancing from people in public, keeping at least 1 metre distance between yourself and others
  • Wear a mask when in public places where there is community transmission and where physical distancing is not possible
  • Wash your hands frequently using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub (Read: Everything you need to know about washing your hands to protect against COVID-19)
  • Keep all indoor spaces well ventilated
  • Cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue when coughing or sneezing. Dispose of used tissue immediately
  • Regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces like phones, doorknobs, light switches and countertops
  • Seek medical care early if you or your child has a fever, cough, difficulty breathing or other symptoms of COVID-19

>> Read: Everything you need to know about washing your hands to protect against COVID-19

Should I wear a medical mask to protect against COVID-19?

The use of a medical mask is advised if you have respiratory symptoms (coughing or sneezing) to protect others, or if you are caring for someone who may have COVID-19.

If masks are worn, they must be used and disposed of properly to ensure their effectiveness and to avoid any increased risk of transmitting the virus. Disposable face masks should only be used once.

The use of a mask alone is not enough to stop infections and must be combined with frequent hand washing, covering sneezes and coughs, and avoiding close contact with anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms (coughing, sneezing, fever).

>> Read: COVID-19 and masks - Tips for families

How does COVID-19 affect children?

We are still learning how it affects children. We know it is possible for people of any age to be infected and transmit the virus, although older people and/or those with pre-existing medical conditions seem more likely to develop serious illness.

There are reports of a rare but serious multisystem inflammatory syndrome affecting children and adolescents, possibly associated with COVID-19. Clinical features can include but are not limited to: persistent fever; rash; red or pink eyes; swollen and/or red lips, tongue, hands, feet; gastrointestinal problems; low blood pressure; poor blood flow to organs; and other signs of inflammation.

Children who have these symptoms should seek medical care. Early diagnosis and treatment are critical, but initial reports suggest most cases responded well to anti-inflammatory treatment. 

What should I do if my child has symptoms of COVID-19?

Seek care early if your child is having symptoms and try to avoid going to public places (workplace, schools, public transport) to prevent it spreading to others.

What precautions should I take for my family if we travel?

Anyone planning a trip should always follow local and national guidance on whether it is advisable to travel. Those traveling should check the advisory for their destination for any restrictions on entry, quarantine requirements on entry, or other relevant travel advice. If flying, it is also recommended to consult the guidelines for the airline you are traveling with. Follow the same personal protection measures during travel as you would at home.

In addition to taking standard travel precautions, and in order to avoid being quarantined or denied re-entry into your home country, you are also advised to check the latest COVID-19 update on the International Air Transport Association website, which includes a list of countries and restriction measures.

>> Read more tips for travelling with your family during COVID-19

Can pregnant women pass COVID-19 to unborn children? 

At this time, we still do not know if the virus can be transmitted from a mother to her baby during pregnancy. To date, the COVID-19 virus has not been found in vaginal fluid, in cord blood, breastmilk, amniotic fluid or the placenta. Research is still ongoing. Pregnant women should continue to follow appropriate precautions to protect themselves from exposure to the virus, and seek medical care early, if experiencing symptoms, such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing.

Is it safe for a mother to breastfeed if she is infected with COVID-19?

Yes, this should continue with appropriate precautions. There is no evidence to date that the COVID-19 virus is transmitted through breastfeeding. Breastmilk provides antibodies that protect babies against many infections. Breastfeeding significantly reduces the risk of death in newborns and young infants, provides lifelong health benefits for children, and improves the health of mothers as well.

Precautions include wearing a medical mask if available, washing your hands with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand rub before and after touching your baby, and routinely cleaning and disinfecting surfaces you have touched.

>> Breastfeeding safely during the COVID-19 pandemic

I’m worried about bullying, discrimination and stigmatization. What’s the best way to talk about what’s happening?

It’s understandable if you’re feeling worried about the coronavirus. But fear and stigma make a difficult situation worse.

Public health emergencies are stressful times for everyone affected. It’s important to stay informed and to be kind and supportive to each other. Words matter and using language that perpetuates existing stereotypes can drive people away from getting tested and taking the actions they need to protect themselves and their communities.

>> Supporting your child’s mental health as they return to school during COVID-19

>> How parents can support their child through COVID-19 losses

>> How to talk to your child about COVID-19

There’s a lot of misinformation about COVID-19 online. What should I do?

There are a lot of myths and misinformation about coronavirus being shared online. UNICEF has launched a portal where you can find more information and guidance about COVID-19. It’s also advisable to keep up to date on travel, education and other guidance provided by your national or local authorities for the latest recommendations and news. In addition, the WHO has a useful section addressing some of the most frequently asked questions.

If you see content online that you believe to be false or misleading, you can help stop it spreading by reporting it to the social media platform.

COVID-19 has been described as a “pandemic”. What does that mean?

The term “pandemic” refers to the geographical spread of COVID-19, it is not an indication of the number of people who have been infected by the virus.

How can I help?

You can join the fight against Covid-19 by spreading facts, not fear!

What is UNICEF doing?

UNICEF is working with the World Health Organization, governments and partners to equip children, pregnant women and their families with the information they need to know on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This includes the development of online training modules for health workers, and FAQs and guidance for parents, pregnant women and children. 

UNICEF is also tackling misinformation about the virus by working with online partners like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and TikTok to make sure that accurate advice is available.

Back to UNICEF COVID-19 portal

Back to UNICEF Parenting COVID-19 guide for parents

This page was last updated on 20 August 2021. For more information on COVID-19 see the WHO website.

For more information about the virus, visit the WHO website

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