Adolescents have been recruited for Covid-19 vaccine trials in the US

29 January 2021
What was claimed

Pfizer is using children as lab rats to test the Covid-19 vaccine.

Our verdict

2,000 children in the US have been enrolled in Covid-19 vaccine trials in the US.

A viral tweet claiming that Pfizer is “using children as lab rats to test their Covid-19 vaccine” has also been shared on Facebook.

It’s correct that in the US, Pfizer has enrolled over 2,000 children aged between 12 and 15 to take part in Covid-19 vaccine trials. That was the case as of 22 January. 

The company said in December that it would be testing its Covid-19 vaccine, which was developed with BioNTech, in adolescents of this age.

In early January it said that it had 1,000 participants in that age group, and that “this controlled approach was agreed to with the FDA [US Food and Drug Administration agency] to allow for initial safety assessment in a small group.”

The Pfizer vaccine has already gone through trials looking at its safety and effectiveness in adults, and approved for use, which is why it has now been deemed safe to start testing it in children over 12. 

Children are not generally being given the Covid-19 vaccine at the moment, partly because there isn’t published data on how well this works. Things like vaccines and medicines need to be tested specifically in children before they are rolled out, for example to determine the ideal dose.

This is part of its larger ongoing trials into monitoring how safe and effective its Covid-19 vaccine is.

The trial is taking place in Argentina, Brazil, Germany, South Africa, Turkey and the US, but it’s not clear whether the children taking part are from all of these places.

Pfizer’s website says that trial participants between the ages of 12 and 17 need the consent of their parent or guardian to take part. Those under the age of 12 are not currently eligible though studies for this group are planned.

Moderna, whose vaccine has just been approved for use in the UK, has said it is planning to run trials in children between the ages of 12 and 17. 

In December, Reuters reported that AstraZeneca (who are manufacturing a vaccine with Oxford University) had removed the sub-group containing children from its UK trial but are reportedly planning initial tests for children in February. Oxford University told Bloomberg this month it planned to recruit 120 UK children in both the 12 to 18 and 6 to 11 age groups and AstraZeneca would run a larger trial for children in the US.

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Children are less likely to get very sick from Covid-19 but spread it and have died

In September, the World Health Organization said children under 18 represent about 8.5% of reported cases, “with relatively few deaths compared to other age groups and usually mild disease”. 

However, it also warned that “cases of critical illness have been reported.” Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that, in 2020, the deaths of 20 people aged 19 years or younger were registered with Covid-19 mentioned on their death certificate in England and Wales.

There are no plans to roll out the vaccine to children in the UK yet. The government’s Green Book, which outlines policies on vaccination, says: “There are currently very limited data on clinical risk factors in childhood, but these limited data suggest that children with neurological comorbidities may be at a greater risk of developing severe COVID-19. 

“Given the very high risk of exposure to infection and outbreaks in institutional settings, vaccination may be considered for children with severe neuro-disabilities who tend to get recurrent respiratory tract infections and who frequently spend time in specialised residential care settings for children with complex needs. 

“Recommendations on vaccinating children with other underlying conditions will be reviewed after the initial roll-out phase by which time additional data on use of the vaccines in adults should allow a better assessment of risks and benefits.”

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