A new clinical trial beginning this month will evaluate the effectiveness of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in children. The trial will involve 300 volunteers to determine whether the vaccine – known as ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 – produces a strong immune response in children aged between six and 17.
Researchers have known for a while now that Covid-19 deaths and severe illness are rare in children compared to adults and the elderly. “In children, the evidence is now clear that Covid-19 is associated with a considerably lower burden of morbidity and mortality compared to that seen in the elderly,” said The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.
“There is also some evidence that children may be less likely to acquire the infection. The role of children in transmission, once they have acquired the infection, is unclear, although there is no clear evidence that they are any more infectious than adults.”
The first vaccinations under the trial will take place this month, with up to 240 children receiving the vaccine and the others receiving a control meningitis shot.
Andrew Pollard, professor of paediatric infection and immunity, and chief investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial, said: “While most children are relatively unaffected by coronavirus and are unlikely to become unwell with the infection, it is important to establish the safety and immune response to the vaccine in children and young people as some children may benefit from vaccination.”
“These new trials will extend our understanding of control of Sars-CoV2 to younger age groups.”
There are already several trials under way to develop vaccines that are safe and effective in teenagers. “I believe most of the major manufacturers are now starting to turn their attention to whether we can do some clinical trials to prove that our vaccines are safe and effective in children,” Prof Van-Tam told ITV News.
“And it is perfectly possible that we will have some licensed children’s vaccines for Covid by the end of the year. It is perfectly possible, but not assured.
“That shouldn’t put you off, if your doctor agrees with you, that it’s the right thing for your son or daughter to be vaccinated because of their vulnerability. But it is an individual, always an individual decision when you’re using medicines and vaccines outside of the label.”
The University of Oxford said theirs was the first trial in the 6-17 age group. Other trials are currently only testing efficacy in those aged 16 and 17.
Rinn Song, paediatrician and clinician-scientist at the Oxford Vaccine Group, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound negative impact on the education, social development and emotional wellbeing of children and adolescents, beyond illness and rare severe disease presentations.”
“It is therefore important to collect data on the safety and the immune response to our coronavirus vaccine in these age groups, so that they could potentially benefit from inclusion in vaccination programmes in the near future.”