COVID-19 vaccine trial to begin on children as young as 6, youngest group yet to be tested

UNITED KINGDOM -- A coronavirus vaccine trial for volunteers, ages 6 to 17, is starting this month in the UK. Global trials with teens have been underway for months, but this is the first time a coronavirus vaccine has been tested on anyone younger than 12.

300 children in the UK are enrolling in the small AstraZeneca vaccine trial through Oxford University. Oxford said in a press release that 240 of the 300 volunteers will receive the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine and the remainder a control meningitis vaccine, "which has been shown to be safe in children but is expected to produce similar reactions, such as a sore arm."

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Previous trials of the vaccine have shown that it is safe, but this phase 2 trial -- funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and AstraZeneca -- will show if kids have a good immune response to the shot.

Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson are expected to start trials for younger age groups in the spring.

When San Mateo mother, Ana Batkovic, was asked if she would enroll her 11-year-old in a COVID vaccine trial, she said, "That's a tough question. I don't know. I guess I would have to read up on it." But Batkovic said once trials are complete and show the vaccine is safe, she would "absolutely" vaccinate her child.

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The state's largest single health care provider, Kaiser Permanente, is lagging well behind other systems when it comes to vaccinating even their oldest and most vulnerable patients.

Batkovic's son and his best friend have mixed emotions about the vaccine.

"It would be great because we'd get the vaccine, but then again, I hate shots," said 11-year-old Jaya Dann, who lives in San Mateo.

But Dann and best friend, Dominik Darius, hope the trial... and the needles... get them one step closer to the classroom.

"I like playing sports, so it'd be fun to go back," said Darius.

Dann agreed, saying, "COVID has been really hard, not being able to see anybody."

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Brentwood resident, Maria Gil, on the other hand is not convinced any vaccine is safe. "To me, I believe they came up this method of a vaccine too soon," she said about the COVID vaccines.

"We have to acknowledge everyone's concerns and not dismiss them," said Stanford pediatric critical care physician, Dr. Alan Schroeder, who says that safety data from multiple trials in young children will be critical when it comes to convincing families to give their kids a COVID vaccine.

"When people are aware of the fact that the probability of their child getting extremely ill from the infection itself is really low, it's a harder sell. It's an easy sell to a 75 year old. It's a little bit of a harder sell to a 25 or 30 year old, and it might even be harder for for a younger child."

Dr. Schroeder says while immunizing children may be important for herd immunity, it should not be a prerequisite for in-person learning. "Once teachers are immunized, I think we do not need to wait for kids to get immunized to get them back to school."

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