A Playground
By Michael Haederle

Quest for Immunity

UNM Researchers to Join National Trial of the Moderna Vaccine in Children

University of New Mexico Health Sciences researchers plan to participate in a national clinical trial to test the safety and efficacy of the Moderna vaccine in preventing SARS-CoV-2 infections in children.

The trial, which will enroll 6,750 healthy children between the ages of 6 months and 12 years, is being conducted in partnership with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the federal Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

The UNM branch of the study will be led by infectious disease specialist Walter Dehority, MD, MSc, an associate professor in the UNM Department of Pediatrics. It is awaiting final regulatory approval before launching.

Until now, the Moderna vaccine has exclusively been tested on adults, Dehority says. And although most children appear to suffer few or no symptoms when infected with the coronavirus, there are still good reasons to get them vaccinated, he says.

“One is herd immunity,” he says. “If no kids were vaccinated under the age of 18, it would be impossible to achieve herd immunity. Vaccinating adults but not children “would be like pouring water into a bucket and drilling a hole in the bottom.”

Vaccinating children also “has huge implications for the opening of schools,” he adds. “A lot of teachers might not feel comfortable going back to in-person learning, but they might if they knew the children they were teaching were immunized. The same would apply to other youth activities, such as sports.”


Walter Dehority, MD, MSC
Vaccinating children ‘has huge implications’ for the opening of schools
Walter Dehority, MD, MSc

Dehority points out that even if the most severe impact of the disease is seen in adults, some children do become seriously ill.

“During the COVID epidemic we’ve had four or five kids in the hospital at a given time, and they’re often in the intensive care unit,” he says. “Why have New Mexican kids in the ICU with COVID-related disease every day if we could prevent that?”

And, Dehority says, having children vaccinated will also make adult family members who might be at risk for COVID (such as grandparents) more comfortable and safer when they are around the youngsters.

The Moderna vaccine is about as effective as the Pfizer vaccine in protecting people from infection, but it doesn’t require the extremely low-temperature refrigeration the Pfizer product does.

“The Moderna vaccine can stay at room temperature for 12 hours and in a refrigerator for 30 days,” Dehority says. “In a rural state, Moderna has a lot of advantages.”

According to Moderna, the open-label placebo-controlled study will evaluate the safety, tolerability and effectiveness of two doses of the vaccine given 28 days apart. Participants will be followed through 12 months after the second vaccination.

In order to recruit study participants, Dehority and his collaborators plant to reach out to pediatricians, as well as the community through the UNM Clinical & Translational Science Center.

“In my lifetime we haven’t seen a vaccine this important since the days of polio in the 1950s,” Dehority says. “The fact that UNM can participate in one of these trials and offer this to kids in the state is pretty cool.”

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