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Teens are the youngest volunteers in COVID-19 vaccine trials

By Lisa M. Krieger, The Mercury News on

Published in News & Features

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Teenagers won't be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine when adults do, because there's not yet proof of safety and efficacy.

But teen volunteers such as San Jose's Allyson Eisenman are bringing it within closer reach, participating in a Kaiser study that could accelerate the vaccine's potential use in young people.

"I really wanted to do what I can help us get out of this" pandemic, said Eisenman,17, "and hopefully get back to what will be the new normal.

"I'm not the best with needles," she confessed. "But it was like any other shot."

Until now, vaccination has focused on adults. Why? It's because they fare worse than adolescents when infected — and also because that's how research is traditionally conducted. Vaccine and drug testing in youth typically starts only after a product is proven completely safe and effective in adults.

Yet pediatricians say it is essential for teens to be included, early on, in COVID-19 vaccine testing. Cases are climbing in young people, they say, with thousands of illnesses and over 100 deaths reported since the pandemic's early days.

 

Without research, it's not known if they will respond as adults do. Children aren't just miniature adults — they may experience different side effects or require smaller doses.

"We know that teenagers can get infected. We know that everyone is susceptible to this disease," said Dr. Nicola Klein, director of the Kaiser Permanente Vaccine Study Center and principal investigator for the trial in Northern California.

"Teenagers and younger children are not thought to get as much disease," she said, "but they do get disease, and they do transmit. It has really impacted their lives, just like it's impacted everyone else in the world."

In September, the American Academy of Pediatrics wrote a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services and Food and Drug Administration urging vaccine research in children.

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