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Tuesday, June 22, 2021

UC Davis researchers run COVID-19 childhood vaccine trials on infant primates

The development of a children’s vaccine would allow kids to return to normal developmental environments and help curb the coronavirus pandemic

Dr. Koen Van Rompay, a researcher at the UC Davis California National Primate Center, is leading a team dedicated to developing a childhood COVID-19 vaccine, which is currently being tested on infant primate monkeys at UC Davis. The center is also using primates to research new reagents and diagnostic tests, according to a UC Davis News article. Tests are showing encouraging results which could soon lead to human trials.

The research team consists of Van Rompay; Dr. Sallie Permar, the head of pediatrics at Cornell Medicine; and Dr. Kristina De Paris, a researcher at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

Currently, COVID-19 vaccine trials are available to healthcare workers and other limited groups of children and adults older than 12. Researchers believe that providing immunity to children under age 12 and, as young as six months, could help control the spread of the virus.  

“We would like to advocate that the vaccine be administered to younger children, especially less than five years old,” Permar said. “The pediatric vaccine schedule [of this age group] gets very high coverage; over 90% of children under 5 will get their vaccines. When it comes to older children such as those age 12, it falls to 40%.”

Van Rompay echoed these sentiments, saying that children often produce better immune responses than adults do.

“Children make good immune responses, often stronger and more durable than adults,” Van Rompay said. “If those children are immune, they would not be able to transmit the virus to others; it would help reduce transmission in the community. 

The researchers are testing two COVID-19 vaccines: the Moderna vaccine and a protein vaccine not yet widely available to the public. 

Sixteen rhesus macaques monkeys have been separated into two groups of eight, and each group will receive one type of vaccine. The monkeys are being given two doses at four weeks apart, and blood samples are collected monthly.

So far, the monkeys have not shown any side effects. Permar hopes that these results will be reported this January.  

The childhood vaccine development also serves the need for children to return to normal child development environments. The team hopes to begin human trials before the academic school year begins next fall. 

“The sooner we can find a vaccine for children the better,” Van Rompay said. “These children can then go back to school; it’s good for the children’s welfare and education.”

Permar also noted the pandemic’s severe effects on children’s ability to go to school and interact with peers. 

“While children do not have as much severe disease compared to adults, they certainly have been indirectly heavily impacted by the pandemic through the loss of in-person school, group activities and sports, all of which are important to a child’s development.”

Van Rompay emphasized that any risks that may come with the vaccine pale in comparison to those that are associated with having the virus.

“The risks of the vaccine are so minimal compared to getting the virus,” Van Rompay said, adding that long-term exposure to the virus could bring cardiovascular complications and could affect the brain. “These days with social media, rumors and false information spread so fast. [It’s] something that we also have to work on.” 

Although some vaccines have been delivered to the Primate Center, Van Rompay is waiting to receive the vaccine. 

Permar, who has already received the COVID-19 vaccine, emphasized its importance, adding that she hopes to enroll her own son as he approaches the age of 12 in a vaccine trial if one is still available. 

“I feel very lucky to have gotten the vaccine,” Permar said. “These vaccines have proven to be so effective and very safe. There’s a lot of people who would like to start developing their vaccine immunity so that they can be protected for their jobs or families.”
Written by: Annette Campos — campus@theaggie.org

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