COVID-19: The Children's Issue

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Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the statistics have been consistent: the vast majority of children and young people under the age of 18 are either spared the disease or develop asymptomatic or mild forms. As the pandemic increases around the world, there are exceptions, which doctors say confirm the rule. Why are children escaping Covid-19? What is it about them that would protect them? Researchers are working on this enigma, but other views and disciplines could bring a fresh eye to the problem. Paule Pérez is a psychoanalyst. She proposes a question that deserves reflection.

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A thought crossed my mind, starting with the massive insistence that children are the most resistant to Covid-19. Certainly, it's a stubborn commonplace: for immunity, it's better to be young than old... But beyond the joke, a bit like Alice's " unbirthday ", coronavirus infection would be a serious disease that would define itself as "non-infantile". I quickly asked myself what precisely is it about the physiology that so clearly distinguishes a child's own resistance from that of an adult and an older person: what constitutes this great difference?

What exists in children to attenuate significantly in adulthood and throughout life is particularly related to the pituitary gland in its production of the hormone called somatotropin, or somatotropin, better known as "growth hormone". In the absence of any medical background, it is my personal interest in research in this field and my training in epistemology that have mobilized it. The question on this subject was insistent to me because of the continued emphasis on the child resistance to the Corona virus.

As an informed and enlightened medical source tells me, the somatotropic hormone, or STH, secreted by the pituitary gland throughout the growth period is the most prominent because it is the hormone that ensures the harmonious development of tissues, particularly the skeleton.

But I'm also learning that once growth is complete, Somatotropin has little effect after all. And that the only analyzable model is that of acromegaly linked to a pituitary adenoma and excess hormone secretion. However, in acromegal patients, a large number of vital organs are weakened, particularly the heart, the site of severe cardiomyopathies. When we know that today the most serious forms of Covid infection manifest themselves within a few hours in the form of a major poly-visceral failure and first and foremost a devastating myocarditis, we can conversely think that we may not have the cause of childhood "immunity" with somatotropin.. But this is a rare disease.

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At a time when we have no vaccine or direct treatment for Corona, can we be satisfied with this trivial statement of generational "injustice" without delving into it from a demanding, out of the ordinary point of view? Is this observation totally innocuous, or does it nevertheless contain a fertile avenue for scientific exploration? Can we draw from it a lesson for therapeutic research and epidemiology, capable of finding a vaccine, attacking the virus head-on and or most directly stopping its virulence?

Certainly and fortunately we might have found a pharmacological action to the good old quinine in its derivatives, which generations have absorbed for the prevention and symptomatic treatment of malaria. Other lines of research, we are told, are already under way, trying to make up for the time lost when, with SARS having disappeared, we simply stopped digging the adjacent tracks...

I will therefore formulate the basic question in this way: what if the child's own resistance were, however, in principle not just a simple fact, but precisely a major clue, or even the major clue, which would indicate, if it were taken into account scientifically, precisely what is at stake here? We would then have a plausible working hypothesis to explore.

What in the body is the basis for the immune difference between child and adult? Isn't there any "interest" in trying to deepen the constitutive reason of this gravity gap by focusing precisely on the respective physiological, metabolic, differences? Thus, apart from the higher somatotropin content in children (about 10 times that of adults), would not the even higher content of the hormone in newborns (three to seven times that of children) also support the hypothesis?

But, medicine tells us, so many things at the heart of cellular, tissue, and organic life change continuously during childhood, that we may wonder whether the plasticity of living things, which is at its maximum at the beginning of life and only diminishes thereafter, is not the primary cause. After all, autoimmune diseases almost always spare children.

If research is undertaken, we may have the answer. And at the very least, as a basic precaution, wouldn't measuring somatotropin levels in the elderly (and at risk) be a preventive measure? And in this respect, would it not be interesting (if possible) to know, "in the negative", whether or not those who did not survive had particularly low levels of somatotropin? In short, would somatotropin have properties that would strengthen the infected patient - or even weaken the virulence of the virus?

Certainly, in the scientific community, there have been some unfortunate experiments in the past with the use of growth hormone. But with the progress made since then, and in the current situation, if these reflections are in theory admissible, we can perhaps take up the subject again. 

Paule Perez, Psychoanalyst

Header photo Art Street, rue Françoise Dolto, Paris XIIIth, January 2017 © Photo CAD

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