USA Today: Pfizer has expanded its COVID-19 vaccine trial to include teens
By Karen Weintraub
After school Thursday, 12-year-old Abhinav pushed up his T-shirt sleeve and looked down as a needle pierced his left shoulder.
The Ohio boy is one of the first children allowed to receive a vaccine designed to protect against COVID-19. His father, Sharat, also joined the trial.
After months of testing its COVID-19 candidate vaccine in adults, Pfizer recently lowered the age of participation to 16, aiming to include at least 3,000 older teens. On Thursday, Cincinnati Children's Hospital inaugurated an even younger group, vaccinating its first two middle schoolers.
Pfizer is the only one of the leading drug companies to allow minors into a vaccine trial.
Some pediatric vaccine experts say drugmakers and federal regulators should wait until the vaccines have been proven safe and effective in adults before moving to children.
But Dr. Barbara Pahud, director of research in the infectious diseases department at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, said it's immoral not to get kids into trials as soon as possible.
"We should not allow children to die," she said. "That's our job as pediatricians to make noise and make sure people are noticing."
Pahud said COVID-19 is as dangerous for children as other illnesses they are vaccinated against, not counting the risk infectious children present to adults. After the pneumococcal vaccine was introduced in children, for example, doctors were pleasantly surprised to see rates of pneumonia fall.
With COVID-19, she said, "we might have more impact in herd immunity and transmission than we know."
Another reason to test children, Pahud said: once a vaccine is approved for adults, some parents will have their children get it, even without federal approval. Absent a trial in children, there's no way to know if that will be safe, she said, adding that she wishes such studies had started long ago. "We're severely behind," she said.
Pfizer hasn't released any details of its roll out other than to say it plans to assess success with one age group before moving down to the next.
Pahud said she's also hearing a lot of fear from parents worried their child will have one of the rare, bad cases of COVID-19. If nothing else, Pahud said, a vaccine should be able to stem some of that fear.
"We're never going to get back to normal without having a vaccine available for children," she said.
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Learn more about COVID-19 Research at Children's Mercy