Moderna claims 96% vax effectiveness in teens

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It’s another blow for adolescents who hate needles -- but a potentially powerful way to slow the spread of COVID-19. Moderna announced its messenger RNA vaccine was 96% effective at preventing infection in kids 12 to 17-years-old enrolled in a large clinical trial.

Of the more than 3,000 participants, just 12 developed Covid, the company said. Moderna, like Pfizer, plans to ask the FDA for expansion of its Emergency Use Authorization to cover this younger age group. At present, Moderna’s vaccine can be used in those 18 and up; Pfizer’s in those 16 and older.

Pfizer also recently announced similar clinical trial data in adolescents 12 to 15-years-old. Regulators could approve its use in that age group in the near term.

“On the face of it they seem to be performing similarly in children, which is a good finding because we know that we need to vaccinate children over the course of the next several months,” said John P. Moore, Ph.D., a professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medicine.

The face of it, of course, is all the press release contains. Moore said it’s frustrating not to have actual data to look at. When it does come out, he said researchers will be focusing on a number of things: “The numbers of people in the control group and the vaccine group, how solid the protection looks, whether they’ve measured protection against infection or disease and, if possible, the antibody responses that have been generated, because we’d like to compare them with what’s seen in adults.”

The safety data will be particularly important to FDA regulators, Moore added. “They’ll want to look very closely on whether there’s anything visible in children that was not seen in adults.”

Vaccinating adolescents is particularly important to help contain Covid, as they have so many different social interactions, said Robert Bednarczyk, Ph.D., professor of global health at Emory University in Atlanta.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for adolescents to serve as a transmission source for COVID-19,” Bednarczyk said -- so it’s not just for their own health that immunization is important, though, he notes, there have been serious illnesses and even deaths in this age group.

There’s another good reason to get adolescents vaccinated, too: “It’s also preventing the emergence of new variants that may potentially be worse than what we’ve seen already,” Bednarczyk said.

In ongoing surveys, The Covid-19 Consortium has been tracking vaccine resistance among parents. It found that, overall, Dads have become slightly less resistant to the idea of their kids getting vaccinated against Covid from February to April, with a decline from 14% to 11%. But Moms have not budged from their position -- holding steady at 27%.

Both Moms and Dads are a little more willing to let teens ages 13-17 get vaccinated, however, with just 9% of Dads and 25% of Moms resistant to that idea.

Teens do present some vaccination obstacles of their own. For one thing, they’re less likely to see the doctor on a regular basis -- and it’s expected Covid vaccines will be making their way into doctor’s offices eventually. Some teens still feel squeamish about needles.

And finally, teens can very forcefully refuse to do things -- even when it’s for the good of everyone.

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