Fight against Corona What speaks for and against child vaccinations
Status: 06/22/2021 8:57 a.m.
The debate about whether children should be vaccinated against Corona is in full swing. Companies are pressing ahead with their studies for the approval of a vaccine for young children as well. What is the current state of research?
From Axel John, SWR
Just a few steps from the magnificent Gendarmenmarkt in Berlin is the rather inconspicuous Hausvogteiplatz. But what is sensational is what happens there in a sober office building. The Association of Research-Based Drug Manufacturers (VfA) has its headquarters here. The experts maintain contact with pharmaceutical companies all over the world – also when it comes to corona vaccine research, which is still under high pressure.
Particularly strict requirements for tests with minors
A team of specialists is constantly collecting the latest data from all over the world. Rolf Hömke is also there. The biochemist is an expert in research and drug safety. “When developing a new drug, it is standard that the preparation is initially only tested on adults. If these results are correspondingly good, studies with minors follow.” However, a prerequisite is a medical benefit in children and adolescents. Hömke gives an example: “A new antibiotic, for example, is also needed for children – but a preparation against prostate cancer is not.” Even higher requirements would apply to the tests in order to avoid stress in young people as far as possible. Both parents must have agreed together. The conditions also demanded that the children also say yes as soon as possible. “Money cannot be earned with such participation. The test subjects receive an expense allowance. The participants are mostly idealists or sick people who hope for an effective treatment.”
Intermediate results of the vaccine test series for children under twelve years of age BioNTech / Pfizer started a study in March 2021 with children aged six months and younger than twelve years. In the first phase, a small number of minors initially received different doses. In the current phase II, around 4500 young people are to be tested for the effectiveness of the vaccine in more than 90 facilities in the USA, Finland, Poland and Spain. Here researchers analyze the respective immune response. Results could be available from September.
Moderna reported the start of the phase II / III study in March. More than 6,700 children between six months and under twelve years of age in the United States and Canada are expected to participate. Here, too, it was initially about the best dosage. The effectiveness is then checked in the further course.
With the vaccine from AstraZeneca investigations began at Oxford University in February. Several hundred young people and children between the ages of six and under 18 should take part. The study has been temporarily stopped by the British authorities after reports of very rare side effects with thrombosis.
Janssen / Johnson & Johnson started testing his vaccine with adolescents aged twelve and over in April 2021. If the interim results are good, younger test persons should join the group. However, this study is also currently on hold.
Sinovac has been testing its CoronaVac vaccine in China since the beginning of May. In phase II, minors between the ages of three and 17 are to be tested here.
STIKO sees no rush
Professor Dr. Fred Zepp follows vaccine development with great interest. On the one hand, Zepp is a member of the Standing Vaccination Commission (STIKO). The committee drew up the recommendations for the sequence of corona vaccinations. Zepp was also director of the Center for Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine at the Mainz University Hospital for many years. He believes it is imperative that vaccines be developed for minors as well. This is particularly important for high-risk patients such as children with chronic cardiopulmonary diseases, emphasizes Zepp. “The mRNA vaccine process is an impressive development with excellent prospects. But we do not yet have any broad experience with children,” explains Zepp. For him it is important that the development of an adult’s organism is differentiated. The acute side effects can usually be recognized in the first twelve to 16 weeks. “With infants or children, on the other hand, I have an organism that is subject to constant development. That is why I say: We are currently under no time pressure in this group and should wait for further study results.” In addition, there are hardly any children in Europe who are seriously ill with Covid-19. Less than 80 children in Germany were being treated in an intensive care unit because of Corona. There have also been very few deaths that are even below the rate of flu. Zepp is also referring to a few cases in adolescents in the USA who developed heart muscle inflammation after the second vaccination with BioNTech. The authorities are currently investigating whether there is a connection. “The coronavirus will continue to change. I expect that the older population could also be affected here.”
Corona vaccination STIKO recommendation for eleven percent of young people
The STIKO recommends a corona vaccination for children only with previous illnesses.
“The pathogen spreads unhindered, especially in children”
In Munich, Matthias Kromayer leans over the latest results from corona vaccine research in children. The microbiologist recommends vaccinating minors according to the relevant studies and approvals – regardless of the vaccine. Kromayer works on the board of MIG AG. The company is currently investing in 30 start-ups. In 2008, BioNTech received a good 13 million euros as an initial investment from MIG.
For Kromayer, a vaccination rate of 70 to 80 percent in the population is the goal. “Then there is a good chance of paralyzing the spread of the virus and mutated variants. The pathogen spreads unhindered, especially in children. They are closer together and cannot yet adhere to the hygiene rules,” explains Kromayer. According to the Federal Statistical Office, there are more than 8.5 million people under the age of twelve in Germany. For Kromayer, this group is so large that it should not be ignored in the fight against pandemics. At the same time, children have a much stronger immune system that can deal with Corona much better. In this way, fewer pathogens would presumably be transmitted: “The vaccine side effects in children are likely to be very limited, but the resulting protection for other population groups is high. That should be weighed up.”
European Medicines Agency Green light for BioNTech vaccine from the age of twelve
The vaccine is “well tolerated” and there are no “serious concerns” about possible side effects.
Politicians do not want to commit themselves yet
In Berlin, too, the Federal Ministry of Health has long since registered the emerging debate. Whether and to what extent children should also be vaccinated in the fight against Corona is still silent. Upon request, the press office simply declares: “The results of studies and possible approval by the European authorities remain to be seen.”
According to BioNTech / Pfizer, reliable results from the currently ongoing study series can be expected from September onwards. By then, at the latest, the discussion about the best vaccination strategy will really start