Fri | Sep 17, 2021

Shots in little arms: COVID-19 vaccine testing turns to kids

Published:Friday | March 26, 2021 | 9:49 AM
In this Wednesday, March 24, 2021 image from video provided by Duke Health, Alejandra Gerardo, 9, looks up to her mom, Dr Susanna Naggie, as she gets the first of two Pfizer COVID-19 vaccinations during a clinical trial for children at Duke Health in Durham, North Carolina. In the US and abroad, researchers are beginning to test younger and younger kids to make sure the shots are safe and work for each age. (Shawn Rocco/Duke Health via AP)

The 9-year-old twins didn’t flinch as each received test doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine -- and then a sparkly bandage to cover the spot.

“Sparkles make everything better,” declared Marisol Gerardo as she hopped off an exam table at Duke University to make way for her sister Alejandra.

Researchers in the US and abroad are beginning to test younger and younger kids to make sure COVID-19 vaccines are safe and work for each age.

The first shots are going to adults who are most at risk from the coronavirus, but ending the pandemic will require vaccinating children too.

“Kids should get the shot,” Marisol told The Associated Press this week after the sisters participated in Pfizer’s new study of children under age 12.

“So that everything might be a bit more normal.” She’s looking forward to when she can have sleepovers with friends again.

So far in the US, teen testing is furthest along: Pfizer and Moderna expect to release results soon showing how two doses of their vaccines performed in the 12 and older crowd.

Pfizer is currently authorised for use starting at age 16; Moderna is for people 18 and older.

But younger children may need different doses than teens and adults.

Moderna recently began a study similar to Pfizer’s new trial, as both companies hunt the right dosage of each shot for each age group as they work toward eventually vaccinating babies as young as 6 months.

Last month in Britain, AstraZeneca began a study of its vaccine among 6- to 17-year-olds. Johnson & Johnson is planning its own paediatric studies.

And in China, Sinovac recently announced it has submitted preliminary data to Chinese regulators showing its vaccine is safe in children as young as 3.

Getting this data, for all the vaccines being rolled out, is critical because countries must vaccinate children to achieve herd immunity, noted Duke paediatric and vaccine specialist Dr Emmanuel “Chip” Walter, who is helping to lead the Pfizer study.

Most COVID-19 vaccines being used around the world were first studied in tens of thousands of adults.

Studies in children won’t need to be nearly as large: Researchers have safety information from those studies and subsequent vaccinations of millions of adults.

And because children’s infection rates are so low -- they make up about 13% of COVID-19 cases documented in the US -- the main focus of paediatric studies isn’t counting numbers of illnesses.

Instead, researchers are measuring whether the vaccines rev up youngsters’ immune systems much like they do adults’ — suggesting they’ll offer similar protection.

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