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Virginia pediatric trials of COVID vaccine to begin

By SHSJC Student Amarah Ennis, written for JAC 310, Prof. Lynn Waltz

CHESTERFIELD, Va — A year after administering the first adult COVID vaccination, Moderna and other companies are looking for children to test the vaccine in Virginia and across the country.

Moderna announced earlier this month that it would begin pediatric trials across the United States and Canada on April 1. The company hopes to vaccinate over 6,750 children, aged six months to 12 years, according to the study’s online sign-up page.

Arryn Ennis, 9, plans to volunteer. She’s undaunted by the risks of a vaccine trial.

“It’s basically like the flu shot,” Ennis said, “and I haven’t heard of anyone who took it and died.”

The first part of the pediatric trial, called the KidCOVE study, will test how large a dose children need for maximum efficacy. The second phase will split children into those who receive the vaccine and a control group. Trial participants will be compensated.

The Pfizer vaccine is also conducting trials on children, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is being tested in teenagers. Moderna has conducted trials for 12- to 17-year-olds but has not released the results.

Clinical Research Partners in Richmond is the only location conducting Moderna’s KidCOVE study in Virginia. It’s estimated that a few hundred or less will be accepted at that location.

Ennis, who is in fourth grade, has given her participation careful consideration.

“The more people that do it, the safer it gets, because then the scientists can figure out if it works and change it if it doesn’t,” said Ennis. “And if you get the vaccine, then you can be safe too, or more safe then you’d be not taking it at all.”

In August of last year, DMV publication Patch reported that over 10,000 children had tested positive for the virus, 11.3% of Virginia’s cases at the time. A more recent study by Inova Health System, the Virginia Department of Health, and George Mason University found that more than 65% of children who test positive have no coronavirus symptoms. Vaccinating children ensures that they don't unknowingly transmit the disease to other, more vulnerable individuals.

Arryn’s brother, 14-year-old Camden Ennis, has a simpler reason for participating in the KidCOVE study.

“I want money. That’s the only thing that’s gonna be on my mind when I go in,” Ennis said. “And I guess I don’t want to get COVID, but I’m quarantining anyway. It’s not like I’m going to get it any time soon.”

The process is simple: children and their parents will visit the clinic and have their temperatures checked. After parents fill out required paperwork, the children have their vitals taken and blood drawn. Then, the vaccine is administered, and parents are given the next appointment date.

Mom, Afrikka Ennis, isn’t at all worried about having her youngest children participate.

“Because it’s already been approved in adults, and eventually it’ll come to the point where children are getting it, if they can get it earlier than everybody else, I would much prefer that,” Ennis said.

The COVID vaccine has been authorized under an EUA (emergency-use authorization) but has not been officially approved by the FDA.

So far, Moderna and Pfizer both report vaccine efficacy rates of over 90%. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine efficacy rate is less than 75% but requires one dose instead of two.

Ennis said regardless of what vaccine was offered during the trials, she’d want her children to participate. “50% or 75% or 90%, whatever. It’s better than zero,” said Ennis.

Worries about coronavirus variant B.1.1.7 have increased parents’ desire to have their kids vaccinated. This strain, originally developing in the United Kingdom, is now the dominant variant of the virus in the country, according to CDC chief Dr. Rochelle Walensky. B.1.1.7 has been associated with higher infection and hospitalization rates for younger people.

As of April 8th, the CDC reports 347 people in the state have this variant, with nearly a third being 20 years of age or younger. Still, experts say a COVID vaccine or previous COVID infection is enough to protect a person from the new variant: even more of a reason for kids to participate in a vaccine trial.

As of March, there are no plans to make vaccines a requirement for young students returning to in-person school. In fact, Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, predicted that most elementary and middle-school students won’t be fully vaccinated until 2022. For families who want to vaccinate their young children against COVID-19, trials may be the quickest way to do so.

For those kids across the state and the country who can’t make it to the clinic, Arryn has valuable advice.

“Stay inside so you don’t get COVID, and if you go outside, keep wearing masks. That way you can keep other people safe and yourself safe until you can get the vaccine.”

Note: Due to pandemic conditions: Students were given permission to interview family members.