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Moderna Begins Enrolling Children As Young As 6 Months In Vaccine Trial


The U.S. has administered more than 110 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, but the vast majority of those jabs are going to adults. Pfizer's vaccine is authorized for people as young as 16. The vaccines from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are for people 18 and up. So are these vaccines safe and effective for children? Pfizer is currently testing its vaccine on teens who are 12 to 15 years old. And just yesterday, Moderna announced that it has begun enrolling children as young as 6 months into a trial of its own. Dr. Steve Plimpton is an OB-GYN in Arizona, and he's the principal investigator for that Moderna trial in kids in Phoenix. Doctor, what kind of response are you seeing to the calls to join this trial? Are parents excited to enroll their children?

STEVE PLIMPTON: Good morning. Thanks for having me. Yeah, they're very excited. The response from the parents has been overwhelming. They seem very ready. They're calling literally all day long asking for when they can get their kids vaccinated.

MARTÍNEZ: What are they hoping to get to when they make these calls to you? What are they hoping to come out of this for that for their kids?

PLIMPTON: They're looking for protection for their kids. Here in the - especially here in Arizona, the kids are going back to school by governor mandate. And now we're going to have more exposure issues for these kids. So, in essence, I think that the parents are looking at protecting their kids, but indirectly, they're also going to be protecting themselves and those around the kids that might be infected if the kids actually get infected.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, especially Grandma and Grandpa. Moderna is the first vaccine maker in the country to enroll infants. How are the protocols for children this young different from the adult trials?

PLIMPTON: We're giving different doses for the kids. They'll be graduated doses because we need to also determine the dose that's most effective for the kids. So it starts out with a smaller dose. It's still the same two injection as the adults get but different doses. And then blood work will be done on the kids to determine how they respond so we can determine the right dose for the children.

MARTÍNEZ: How quickly after the doses does the bloodwork happen?

PLIMPTON: There's bloodwork on the day of injection and there's a blood - there's bloodwork at a month past the injection and then five months down to find out how they respond.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. Now Pfizer began enrolling children in its COVID vaccine trial back in October. Clearly, these trials take a lot of time. Any idea how long before we have data from Moderna?

PLIMPTON: Well, the study is projected to go for 14 months. I don't believe that it'll take that long with the response. We already have 300 parents here in Phoenix that want to get their children injected. So to achieve the 6,750 patients we want for statistical significance in order to get the data to go to the FDA, it'll probably be less than that amount of time.

MARTÍNEZ: Less than that, wow, that's pretty quick. Now, if these vaccines are safe and they work in children just as they do in adults, I mean, how significant, Doctor, of a game changer would that be for reopening schools?

PLIMPTON: Well, we're reopening the schools. The game changer here is more for protecting the kids who don't really get sick with the COVID-19 infection. But as you alluded to, the indirect and the tangent we're going to get on this is protecting others around. We're going to head more towards a community immunity and then obviously on to herd immunity by taking this population out of the potential transmission of COVID-19. Would all of the same things for adults after their two doses apply for children?

MARTÍNEZ: Would they have to wait two weeks and then not maybe wear masks or do all the same rules and protocol still apply?

PLIMPTON: That's what we'll find out.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. Now, young kids, I mean, they're not as likely to get too sick from coronavirus, but they can spread it. We know that. What does an effective vaccine for children mean for community transmission as a whole?

PLIMPTON: Definitely a reduction because these are obviously kids. You know, prior to being able to talk and walk, they can transmit the virus. So if we can take out this segment of the population, it'll be another step closer to actually, like I say, achieving herd immunity and protecting everybody.

MARTÍNEZ: So are we talking play dates? Are those back on the calendar for parents? Because I think parents would love to have play dates for their kids.

PLIMPTON: We're all starved for any social interaction for our kids, if not for ourselves. So this is a step getting back to our normal life.

MARTÍNEZ: And I guess, Doctor, too, the other thing, the business side of this would be businesses, say, amusement parks, where, you know, that's where kids, I'm sure, would love to go and maybe haven't had the opportunity in a long time. Is that something that maybe can open up wider when kids get vaccinated?

PLIMPTON: Oh, I'm sure. And ultimately, we're kind of seeing that happen. And like with cruise lines requiring everybody going on a cruise to have vaccinations done, so initially, they're not going to allow kids to go on cruises. But this is going to open up a whole nother spectrum of our lives that we haven't seen for over a year, you know, being able to participate in all those fun activities without worrying about it.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Dr. Steve Plimpton, the principal investigator for that Moderna trial in kids in Phoenix. Doctor, thank you.

PLIMPTON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.