Head of Paediatrics Infectious Diseases at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, D.C., Dr. Roberta DiBiasi, says researches are underway to determine if the two COVID-19 vaccines by Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna are safe for children.
She said why little is known about how the vaccines might impact children is due to the fact that the focus of most clinical trials have always been on the adult population.
The infectious disease expert, in an audio interview broadcast on NPR, an online portal that focuses on paediatrics, however, said hopefully, by January or February next, emerging data would determine if children can be inoculated with the vaccines.
“It stems from the fact that the focus has always been on adults, both for the disease itself, and that is appropriate in the case of COVID-19 because of its severity in adults.
“But it does affect children, therefore we do need to think about vaccines in children as well.
“But like in vaccines, we always want to do our initial efficacy and safety studies in the adult population, and in particular for this disease where that group of people are the most heavily affected with hospitalisation, severe infection and death,” she said.
DiBiasi revealed that children were not part of the COVID-19 human trial from the beginning, adding that it is usually the case with all vaccines due to safety reasons.
“That is generally the case. We start with adults and as we get to the safety and efficacy data, we incrementally move it down into the other age groups.
“For the Pfizer product, they did include down to 16 years of age in the initial set of data that we saw, and in fact, they have been enrolling children down to 12 years of age since October.
“There were a couple hundred children for which we had a little bit of preliminary data for that product.
“For the Moderna product, they are now launching a 12 to 17 years old group of individuals to be studied, and there are over 3000 children in that study as well.” She said.
DiBiasi further explained that normally with new vaccines, researchers have to study longer to know the side effects and how they could differ in children compared to adults.
She, however, said she is confident that ongoing research on effects of COVID-19 vaccines on children are being handled well.
“One thing the public should understand is that the ability to ‘speed up’ the process here has nothing to do with shortening or changing or taking shortcuts with the very careful and efficacy evaluation process.
“The part that was able to be speeded up was because of the technology of these two vaccines and the ability to develop the vaccines with a piece of RNA, rather than some of the methods that we have used for over 50 years that are very time consuming, and to get to the point when you can actually put it into a human trial.
“But what I think is super important for people to know is that once the product was available and it went into the usual clinical trial, there have been no shortcuts.”
DiBiasi said there is a possibility that children might require a lower dose of COVID-19 vaccine, but said it is part of what is being evaluated by researchers.
She said, “For these particular vaccines, these two that have been released so far have performed similarly in the 17 to 18 years old as in the older individuals.
“But if we look at the actual numbers of the side effects, they are slightly higher in kids, meaning they have a more robust immune response to the vaccines.
“Parents should know that the vast majority of children are going to do just fine even if they get infected with COVID-19.
“Only three per cent of hospitalisation in the US are children.
“If we take any one child, the odds are very good for them that they are going to have a mild illness and if they are hospitalised, they are going to survive.
“The vaccine is very important for us now to first, protect our most vulnerable population, which are the frontline, essential workers, our elderly, teachers and those who are interacting with children, and eventually the appropriate safety studies that are being done in efficacy in kids would also have a safe and efficacious vaccines for our kids as well.”
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