Two in five parents of children under 18 say at least one of their children has contracted COVID-19

Carl BialikU.S. Politics Editor and Vice President of Data Science
Taylor OrthSenior Survey Data Journalist
June 01, 2022, 3:20 PM GMT+0

How many children have had COVID-19 in the U.S.? We asked their parents, and found that COVID-19 likely has infected at least one child under 18 in 42% of households that have any. Most households that have had at least one child contract the virus have had more than one child infected.

In recent surveys, the Economist/YouGov Poll has been asking U.S. adult citizens whether they've definitely had COVID-19 (23% of Americans say so) or suspect they probably have (16%). The May 21-24, 2022 poll asked parents a similar question about their children under age 18. Among parents of children in that age group, 42% say at least one of their children under 18 probably or definitely has had COVID-19 at least once. Of that group, 60% say two or more of their children have gotten it. 

The figures are consistent with a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study showing the share of children under 18 who have been infected is greater than the share of adults. That study is based on testing people's blood to detect past infections, including many that the person who was infected might not have been aware of. According to CDC data based on testing during infections, COVID rates for children are similar to adults — suggesting parents' reports as measured on this survey may understate the actual share of households with children under 18 in which a child has contracted COVID-19.

COVID-19 often circulates within households, and that's reflected in our survey data. Among parents of children under age 18 who say they’ve personally had COVID, 65% say at least one of their children also has had it. An even larger share – 80% – of people who say at least one of their children has had COVID say they, too, have had it. This suggests that parents may be more successful in not spreading the virus to their children than they are at not contracting it from their children.

Parents of children aged 5 to 18 who say one of their children has had COVID are more likely to say their children are vaccinated compared to parents whose children have not had COVID. While we don’t know the order in which infection and vaccination occurred, it’s possible that experience with a COVID-positive child increases the likelihood that parents seek out vaccination for their children. A similar pattern emerges in parent's intent to vaccinate children under 5. Parents who say one of their children has contracted COVID are more likely to say they plan to vaccinate their children under 5 when they become eligible compared to parents who haven’t had a COVID-positive child. 

With COVID-19 case counts rising in recent months among all ages, booster shots are starting to become available to fully vaccinated children in eligible ages. About two-thirds (65%) of parents with fully vaccinated children say they'd get their children a booster if available.

This poll was conducted on May 21 - 24, 2022, among 1,500 U.S. adult citizens. Explore more on the methodology and data for this Economist/YouGov poll

Image: Unsplash (Jakayla Toney)

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