Teens now included in COVID-19 vaccine trials

While states are working to vaccinate eligible adults, older children are now participating in COVID-19 trials

Teen girl getting vaccinated

As we enter a new year, the American health care system is racing to vaccinate the public against COVID-19.

With over 367,000 COVID-related deaths and nearly 22 million confirmed cases in America, jumpstarting the vaccine rollout is as important as ever.

Currently, most states are still working to vaccinate Americans who fall under phases 1A and 1B. People who are eligible to receive their COVID vaccine in the phase 1A group include health care workers like doctors, school nurses, pharmacists, dentists, and more. The 1B group includes essential frontline workers, first responders, teachers, clergy, grocery workers, and more.

The next group to be vaccinated will be phase 1C, which includes adults between the ages of 65-74, pregnant women, government officials, and people with underlying health issues. Eventually, states will begin vaccinating adults in the phase 2 group, which includes most of the general public.

One group that's noticeably missing from the vaccine rollout: children.

That's because children weren't included in the initial vaccine trials. Scientists are still trying to figure out how effective the vaccine will be in protecting kids.

There is good news: Children are now included in several new vaccine studies.

Houston is one of 20 cities across the U.S. where kids ages 12 to 17 are able to take part in Moderna's vaccine trial.

Last week, the Texas Center for Drug Development celebrated the inclusion of kids in their study with a post online.

"This is history in the making! We want to congratulate our CyFair team for dosing the first pediatric Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine volunteer!" they posted on LinkedIn.

CyFair moderna vaccine Texas Center for Drug Development via www.linkedin.com

Dr. Sarah Hasan, a researcher with DM Clinical Research, spoke with KHOU 11 News. She explained that volunteers will be monitored for 13 months and will return for several follow-up visits with doctors.

"Being a part of the study gives kids a chance to get protection sooner rather than later," said Hasan. "They have a 2 in 1 chance to get vaccine over the placebo. If these kids are out there getting the vaccine at least they're getting the protection and able to go back to school faster and safer as well."

The Clinical Research Institute in Minneapolis is also participating in the Moderna vaccine study.

Researchers hope the study will offer a better picture of how the vaccine impacts and protects children.

Some medical professionals are hopeful that a full pediatric vaccine will be available by later this year.

If you're on the fence about whether to vaccinate your child because of how quickly scientists were able to create the vaccine, medical experts don't want you to worry.

"One of the things that the public really should understand is that the ability to speed up, quote, 'speed up the proces' here has nothing to do with shortening or changing or taking shortcuts with the very careful safety and efficacy evaluations," Dr. Roberta DeBiasi, head of pediatric infectious diseases at Children's National Hospital in Washington, D.C. told NPR.

"The part that was able to be speeded up was because of the technology of these two vaccines and the ability to develop the vaccine with a piece of message RNA rather than some of the other methods that we've used for over 50 years that are very, very time-consuming to actually get to the point where you can put it into a human trial. But what I think is super important for the public to know is that once the product was available and went into the usual clinical trials, there have been no shortcuts."

In other words, when a full pediatric vaccine is available, you can rest assured knowing that our nation's top medical experts are confident that it will be safe and effective.

When the vaccine is widely available for children, will families be required to get it?

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) told Newsweek that he doesn't believe there will be a national mandate when it comes to the vaccine.

"I'm not sure it's [the COVID-19 vaccine] going to be mandatory from a central government standpoint, like federal government mandates," Dr. Fauci explained. But there are going to be individual institutions that I'm sure are going to mandate it."

Dr. Fauci explained that many hospitals require employees to be vaccinated against influenza and Hepatitis B.

"Here at the NIH [National Institutes of Health], I would not be allowed to see patients if I didn't get vaccinated every year with flu and get vaccinated once with Hepatitis [B]. I have to get certified every year…if I didn't, I couldn't see patients."

It's likely that businesses and organizations may require their employees and patrons to be vaccinated; it's unlikely that the mandate will come from the federal government.

What about schools? When the time comes, will your child be required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine to enroll in school?

"That is possible but that's something that's mandated at the state level and city level," said Dr. Fauci. "A citywide school system might require it in some cities but not other cities. And that's what I mean by things not being done centrally but locally."

There's still a lot we don't know about the COVID-19 vaccine. Scientists aren't sure if a single, two-shot dose will protect patients for life or if we'll need regular booster shots. Scientists are confident that the vaccine prevents the clinical disease but they're still not sure it if also prevents transmission. And studies are underway to determine how much of the dose children actually require and how the vaccine will affect them.

But this is the beauty of science and technology. The best minds in America and around the world are actively working to bring us answers to these questions. Studies are underway right now, collecting data so scientists can learn more about this novel coronavirus. When a full pediatric vaccine is available, it will be only after scientists have proven, with data, that it's safe.

For now, the best thing you can do to keep your family safe is to continue social distancing, mask wearing, and practicing good hygiene. Get vaccinated if you can and talk with your kids about the important work our medical experts are doing around the clock.

To find out if there's an active vaccine trial in your area, contact your child's pediatrician.

Jamie Orsini is an Emmy Award-winning journalist, military spouse, and a mom to two busy toddlers. In her spare time, Jamie volunteers with the Solar System Ambassador program with NASA/JPL and reads anything she can get her hands on. She’s currently working on her first novel.

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