Oxford University starts COVID-19 vaccine trial in children ages 6 to 17

The trial will assess immune response in an age group hit hard by school closures

CBS NEWS – Sophie Lewis

In a key step toward ending the coronavirus pandemic, kids as young as 6 years old will be tested with the COVID-19 vaccine. The University of Oxford has launched a new study to assess the safety of its vaccine with AstraZeneca in children for the first time. 

In a new statement, the university says the trial will assess immune response in kids ages 6 to 17, an age group hit hard by school closures due to the pandemic. Around 300 volunteers are enrolled, expected to get their first inoculations this month. 

In the single-blind, randomized study, up to 240 participants will receive the COVID vaccine, while the control group will receive a meningitis vaccine, which is safe for children and produces a similar reaction. 

“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,” said Andrew Pollard, the trials’ chief investigator. “These new trials will extend our understanding of control of SARS-CoV2 to younger age groups.”

A number of vaccines, including Oxford/AstraZeneca’s and the Pfizer and Moderna formulas being widely used globally, have shown strong efficacy at preventing symptomatic infection. New data from Oxford earlier this month also offered the first evidence that its vaccine can not only prevent people from getting sick with COVID-19, but could help substantially reduce its spread in the community. 

The U.K. approved the emergency use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in late December. Approval of the vaccine was widely celebrated, as it is cheaper to produce and easier to transport and store than other approved vaccines. 

Researchers hope that extending the vaccine to children will help alleviate some of the negative impacts of the pandemic on youth around the world. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound negative impact on the education, social development and emotional well-being of children and adolescents, beyond illness and rare severe disease presentations,” said Rinn Song of the Oxford Vaccine Group. “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 programs in the near future.”

Clinical trials are also underway in the U.S. from vaccine developers Pfizer and Moderna to test the safety and efficacy of the doses in kids. Dr. Anthony Fauci said last month he hopes American children will be able to get vaccinated “by the time we get to the late spring and early summer.”