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Washington University preparing to study COVID-19 vaccines in children

Washington University preparing to study COVID-19 vaccines in children

BJC begins vaccinating frontline caregivers

Dr. Ryan Fields, professor of surgical oncology at Washington University School of Medicine, prepares a vial of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2020, at the school's campus near Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS — Washington University is preparing to study the effects of COVID-19 vaccines on children this spring, and has launched an online registry for families who want to participate.

Dr. David Hunstad, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Washington University School of Medicine and St. Louis Children’s Hospital, said trials are expected to begin in March or April. Over the weekend the university launched an online registry for interested families. When trials begin, researchers plan to get in touch and enroll those who are eligible.

Far fewer children who get infected get seriously ill. But they can still spread the virus. And that means inoculating them could mark a significant step toward slowing the spread, in adults and children alike. Experts estimate that 70% to 85% of the population may need immunity in order to make COVID-19 unlikely to spread.

Moreover, the widespread vaccination of children would make it easier to open schools more fully, Hunstad said.

“It’s important to evaluate the vaccines in children to ensure that if they are used, the immune responses, the protection, will be as good as what has been seen in adults,” Hunstad said.

In December the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of a vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech for people 16 and older, and then one from Moderna for people 18 and older.

Clinical trials often study adults first, Hunstad said. And with COVID-19, the urgency to vaccinate adults has been greater, because older age is associated with more severe cases.

Hunstad said he expects the university will study the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. He said in both cases, Washington University will be one of many study sites across the country.

He emphasized that the trials are not open at this point, and he could not yet say the number of participants to be enrolled, or the age ranges that will be studied.

“This is us getting ready so that when trials do, hopefully, open later this spring, we can move quickly to enroll interested families,” Hunstad said.

In the online survey, families are asked to enter basic details like names of the parents or guardians, and their contact information. Hunstad said researchers hope to begin calling those families in March to gauge their interest in entering a trial, and to provide more detailed information about what the studies would entail.

Signing up now doesn’t guarantee enrollment, and it also doesn’t obligate anybody to participate in a trial, Hunstad said.

Meanwhile, on Monday state and local authorities continued to report declines in coronavirus infections and hospitalizations.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force reported a total of 341 virus patients across area BJC HealthCare, Mercy, SSM Health and St. Luke’s Hospital facilities. Coronavirus patient numbers have declined in the past two months, from a record 962 on Dec. 1. Task force data lags two days.

Missouri reported on Monday that 634,393 people have received a first dose of vaccine, or 10.3% of the population, up from 629,947 the day before. And of those, nearly 239,293 have received a second dose.

Missouri reported 421 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, down from 489 the day before. The seven-day average of new cases was 714, the lowest level since mid-July, according to a Post-Dispatch analysis.

COVID-19 hospitalizations fell to 1,402 statewide, from 1,438 the day before. Missouri hospitalization data lags three days, and not every hospital reports every day. The state reported no new deaths.

Illinois reported 1,420 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, down from 1,631 the day before. The seven-day average of new cases fell to 2,212, according to a Post-Dispatch analysis. The state reported 41 more deaths due to the virus.

Annika Merrilees • 314-340-8528 @annie3mer on Twitter amerrilees@post-dispatch.com

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