Three of four children in America have had COVID-19, along with over six in 10 young adults, according to new estimates.

Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that only a quarter of children 17 and younger have no signs of having had COVID-19.

The research, which analyzed blood samples submitted for testing, estimated large jumps in seroprevalence, or signs of past infection, a state also known as natural immunity because of the protection one enjoys against reinfection and severe illness.

In children, seroprevalence rose from 44 percent in December 2021 to 75 percent in February 2022. Among adults aged 18 to 48, it increased from 36.5 percent to 64 percent; among those aged 50 to 64, it rose from 30 percent to 50 percent, and among those 65 or older, it rose from 19 percent to 33 percent.

“I did expect it to increase. I did not expect it to increase quite this much,” Dr. Kristie Clarke, a CDC epidemiologist, told reporters on a call discussing the new estimates.

Although the CDC maintains that previous infection does not mean one is protected against COVID-19, a slew of studies have shown that people who recover from the illness have better protection than those who get vaccinated, including research from the CDC.

To arrive at the estimates, scientists tested blood specimens for anti-nucleocapsid (anti-N) antibodies, a marker that is triggered only by infection with COVID-19, the illness caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus. The testing does not indicate if one has had a vaccine.

But researchers noted that the great jumps in seroprevalence were recorded among age groups with the lowest vaccination coverage, as just over a quarter of those 5 to 11 are vaccinated and no kids under 5 are able to get a shot.

The vaccines can protect against severe disease and mortality, according to studies and real-world data, but have proven increasingly limited in shielding against infection.

Vaccination on top of natural immunity can boost protection, studies have shown, but the boosts are often minimal. Additionally, people with natural immunity are more likely to suffer side effects when they get a vaccine, according to some research.

The level of prior infection may actually be higher than estimated. The samples analyzed in December, January, and February totaled about 192,000, well under the actual number of infections recorded during those months, and the antibodies can eventually become undetectable, Clarke said.

The pandemic started in early 2020.

Additionally, one of the limitations was that infections after vaccination might result in lower amounts of anti-N antibodies, making them undetectable earlier.

Antibodies are believed to protect people against infection and severe illness.

The research was published in the CDC’s quasi-journal without peer review. The journal features papers that align with the agency’s messaging.

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