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Study Shows Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine To Work In Young People Ages 12-15

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Today we have some good news about efforts to fight the pandemic. Pfizer announced that the vaccine it developed with BioNTech appears to work in children as young as 12. That conclusion comes from a study of some 2,300 kids aged 12 to 15 that began last October. NPR's Joe Palca joins us to talk about it.

Hey, Joe.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: Hey, Ari. How are you doing?

SHAPIRO: All right. This sounds like positive news. What did the study show?

PALCA: Well, as you said, there were about 2,300 children - 2,260 to be precise. Half got two shots of the vaccine. Have got two shots of a placebo. Now, over the course of the study, 18 participants got sick with COVID. And it's important to remember this was a blinded study, meaning that neither the volunteers, nor the researchers knew who was getting what. But, of course, somebody knew. And that's something called a committee known as the Data Safety Monitoring Board. And they decided there were enough cases to let the company unblind the study to see who got what. And all 18 cases were in the placebo group, none in the vaccine group. So at least from this study, the vaccine was 100% effective in preventing disease.

SHAPIRO: It sounds like you couldn't hope for any better results than that. Was this a surprise?

PALCA: You know, that's about as good as it gets. I put that question to Yvonne Maldonado. She's a pediatric vaccine expert at Stanford University School of Medicine.

YVONNE MALDONADO: We do know that children tend to have very good immune responses relative to adults for other vaccines, so we were hoping for this kind of information.

PALCA: So not a surprise at all, actually, although 100% is always a little bit - wow, that was something. But the study also showed that the children who got the vaccine had the kinds of antibodies in their blood that would protect them if they ever were exposed to the virus. And the company says that the study showed that the vaccine was safe to administer to children.

SHAPIRO: Children don't seem to get COVID as often as adults, and when they do, they don't seem to get as sick. So how important is it for kids to get vaccinated?

PALCA: Well, what you say is true, of course. But Maldonado says there are a lot of children in this country, about 85 million people younger than 18. And she says they do sometimes get sick.

MALDONADO: Over 3 million children under 18 have been infected so far in this country, accounting for about 13% of all the cases in the U.S. So it's not insignificant.

PALCA: And the other thing is that if you're going to achieve this thing called herd immunity, where you've got enough people in the society who are immune to the virus that the virus will actually die out, you probably have to include children in the vaccination effort.

SHAPIRO: I'm sure parents of young kids are thinking, what about children under the age of 12?

PALCA: Well, the company announced last week that it would begin testing kids as young as six months, and Maldonado will be involved in those studies. The first step will be to figure out what dose of the vaccine to use because you can probably use a smaller dose in these smaller people to get the same kind of immune protection.

MALDONADO: So we'll start with older kids, 2 to 5, and then go to six months to 2-year-olds over the coming weeks.

PALCA: So they'll have that data on the younger kids as well before too terribly long.

SHAPIRO: Any idea when kids can start getting vaccinated?

PALCA: Well, this is a regulatory question. The first thing that the - that has to happen is that Pfizer will go to the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, and they'll also go to the European equivalent and ask for what's called authorization, or in this country, emergency use authorization for the vaccine. And that usually takes a little while. And then there's this expert committee that reviews what the FDA wants to do. So it's still going to be a while. But the other piece of good news today as well is that Moderna, the other company that makes a very effective vaccine, is testing its vaccine in younger people. So there could be two before too long.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Joe Palca, thank you.

PALCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.