New research shows the effects of lockdown on babies born during a pandemic

New research from Children’s Health Ireland (CHI) and RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences shows babies born during the earliest lockdown in 2020 had very low rates of COVID-19 infection by six months of age, suggesting lockdown is an effective public health strategy, protecting one of society’s most vulnerable groups.

The CORAL study, with initial findings published in the journal Paediatric Allergy and Immunology, is collecting blood and stool samples from 360 babies to investigate the impact of COVID-19 lockdown on their coronavirus exposure and routine healthcare access in Ireland.

Principal investigator, Prof Jonathan Hourihane from CHI at Temple Street and RCSI’s Department of Paediatrics, said, “We set up the study to see if lockdown might support the so-called hygiene hypothesis – suggesting that the way we live so cleanly nowadays increases allergy rates. We wanted to investigate how this might be further exaggerated by lockdown and reduced human contact. Initial results of the study show very low rates of antibiotic use and reduced hospital admissions for our participants. We also saw higher than average rates of immunisation in babies when it was thought uptake would actually decline due to fears about going to health care facilities.”

In total, only four participating children contracted COVID-19 during the first six months; two had positive tests in the community and two other babies having unexpectedly positive COVID-19 results when attending their appointment in CHI at Connolly. 

Professor Hourihane added, “We will continue to study the stool microbiome and allergy rate results but the indication of low COVID infection rates, low antibiotic use and low hospital attendance suggest we are on the right track with fewer infections circulating. The children will have allergy testing at one and two years of age and we can then examine the relationships between their microbiome and allergy outcomes. It is reassuring that this population of infants born during lockdown have received routine healthcare as normal.”

The study is a joint initiative with APC Centre in University College Cork with babies recruited from the Rotunda and Coombe hospitals. It is co-funded by the Children’s Health Foundation and the Clemens von Pirquet Foundation, a European allergy charity.