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4:13 PM, Feb 27, 2020

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Cincinnati Children's Hospital testing COVID-19 vaccine intended for children

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Posted at 2:48 PM, Feb 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-03 14:49:42-05

CINCINNATI, Ohio — In October, Katelyn Evans became the first adolescent at Cincinnati Children's Hospital to receive an injection as part of an extended trial of the COVID-19 vaccine -- one intended to provide a safe and tested vaccine for children as young as 12 years old.

Once clinical trials are completed, if the vaccine passes muster, doctors at Children's said children in that age bracket could be vaccinated as soon as next school year. Their current testing phase is focused on children 16-17 years old.

"I've just come into the hospital a couple of times to get blood drawn, to get the vaccine or placebo, whichever it is," said Katelyn.

Children's said as soon as the FDA granted Pfizer permission to extend the trial to kids in the 12 to 15-year-old age group, the hospital began enrolling teens for the testing phase. Current versions of the COVID-19 vaccine are only available to adults and much is still being learned about how the virus impacts children and how they can spread it.

Katelyn's mother, Laurie, is a teacher and said she believes it's important a vaccine is developed for all ages.

"I'm in a K-8 building," she said. "The younger kids don’t remember to keep their masks on, or their masks slide down under their nose. I know that they are not as affected as adults but that doesn’t mean that they are not affected by it. So it would just be safer once we can get everybody vaccinated."

Dr. Robert Frenck, the principal investigator for the Pfizer vaccine at Children's, also oversees the AstraZeneca Covid-19 clinical trial at UCMC. He said kids are very effective at spreading the COVID-19 virus and, although they're not as heavily affected or as in danger of deadly symptoms as older adults, children are still getting sick.

"Over 9,000 children have been hospitalized and, unfortunately, close to 180 children have died from COVID," he said.

Cincinnati Children's Hospital is one of only five sites in the country testing children between the ages of 12 and 15 years old. Once clinical trials are completed, if the vaccine passes muster, Frenck said children in that age bracket could be vaccinated as soon as next school year. Their current testing phase is focused on children 16-17 years old.

"Below 12, it's going to be more like a year from now, because of the time to get the results from the clinical trials," said Frenck.

Unlike testing the vaccine in older adults, Frenck said not nearly as many participants are needed for this trial.

"We are probably going to be doing what's called an immunological bridging study," he said. "Instead of looking at true efficacy, we will look at the immune response in the children."

Those results will help doctors and researchers gain an understanding of how safe and effective a vaccine will be for children.

Cincinnati Children's has so far enrolled more than 1,000 people in clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccinations and they're still looking for more candidates to participate.

This story was first published by Whitney Miller at WCPO in Cincinnati, Ohio.