As efforts to get the country vaccinated against COVID-19 continue, the effects of the vaccines are just now being studied on a group who represents about a quarter of all Americans — children.
The vaccines that are currently available to Americans — Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson — have not been tested on children as of yet, but that is soon to change.
A national study on the efficacy and effects of the vaccines in children will soon get underway, and the University of Maryland will host one of the trials involving the Moderna vaccine.
Children as young as 6 months up to 11 years old will participate in the trial, which will consist of two main components.
First, researchers will test the dosage of the vaccine to see if children need the same amount or less vaccine than adults. Once the best dosage has been found, a double-blind study will be held to determine the efficacy and potential side effects of administering the vaccine to children.
Before the university was even able to advertise the study’s existence, it started to receive calls from parents hoping to get their kids enrolled.
“Until you get approval from your review board or ethics committee to start, you can’t do any advertising or recruiting, and so we’ve not started telling people that we are recruiting for the study, but despite that, it’s been out there that we will be one of the sites. So we’ve gotten quite a number of families that have put their names on … a contact list being as to be called once we are activated,” said Dr. James Campbell, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Around 90 sites in the U.S. and Canada will be participating in the study, with over 6,000 kids expected to take part.
Campbell said that not all of the families who have reached out so far will participate, as many may rethink enrolling their kids once they learn the amount of responsibility that participation entails.
“It’s a commitment … so it’s six in-person visits, and it’s multiple telephone calls, and it’s filling out diaries, and when children are sick throughout the whole year, you have to be evaluated to make sure that they don’t have COVID; they have to get their blood drawn multiple times,” Campbell said. “So I think until parents get to hear what enrollment entails, that’s when they’ll be able to make the decision.”
While early data suggests children do not get COVID-19 as severely as adults, Campbell said it is still a very serious illness in children.
“I think it is true that if you compare the case load and the severity of disease of COVID in children to COVID in adults, that it’s more mild … but if you compare COVID in children to other infectious diseases in children, it’s a very severe disease,” he said.
Around 3 million cases have been reported in children in the U.S., with over 12,000 hospitalizations and more than 260 deaths.
“That surpasses — by far — the year with the highest number of deaths due to influenza virus in children,” Campbell said.
There have also been a number of cases where children develop multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) after contracting COVID-19. Campbell said the vaccine would protect children from that and decrease the likelihood that children pass the virus to others.
He said the trials are important because without vaccinating children, America will fall well short of the estimated 80% vaccination rate needed to achieve herd immunity.
“If every single adult said that they were gonna get the COVID vaccine, you could still — at maximum — hit 76% of the U.S. population,” he said. “So when people in the past have said ‘Every American,’ — children are Americans too.”
A study by manufacturers Moderna and Pfizer is currently underway on the vaccine’s effectiveness on children between 12 and 16 years old. While no timeline has been established yet, Campbell said his hope is for kids in that age range to be able to get vaccinated before the next school year begins.
“I think it’s possible that we could have those two vaccines available outside of research and to the public … by the summer time or some time before next school year,” he said.
The study that the University of Maryland is participating in will take longer than that because of the age of the participants. Campbell expects kids in their age range likely won’t be vaccinated until the start of the 2022 school year or later.
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