(SKYNEWS) – Children as young as six will be given the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine as part of a new clinical trial to test its efficacy in youngsters.
Researchers will use 300 volunteers to assess whether the coronavirus vaccine will produce a strong immune response in children aged between six and 17.
The trial will begin this weekend at Oxford University and its partner sites in London, Southampton and Bristol.
“These new trials will extend our understanding of control of SARS-CoV2 to younger age groups.”
Dr Grace Li, clinical research fellow from the Oxford Vaccine Group, told Sky News: “We going to give them doses either one month or three months apart, and we’re hoping to look to see which interval gives the best immune response.”
Dr Li said they were hoping to take five blood tests over 12 months to see how long the immune response lasts.
England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam has previously said several trials are under way to develop vaccines that are safe and effective in children.
He added it was “perfectly possible that we will have some licensed children’s vaccines for COVID-19 by the end of the year”.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health says there is evidence COVID-19 can cause death and severe illness in children, but that this is rare.
It said: “In children, the evidence is now clear that COVID-19 is associated with a considerably lower burden of morbidity and mortality compared to that seen in the elderly.
“There is also some evidence that children may be less likely to acquire the infection. The role of children in transmission, once they have acquired the infection, is unclear, although there is no clear evidence that they are any more infectious than adults.”
Other trials had begun but they are measuring efficacy in those aged 16 and 17, the University of Oxford said.
Rinn Song, paediatrician and clinician-scientist at the Oxford Vaccine Group, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound negative impact on the education, social development and emotional well-being of children and adolescents, beyond illness and rare severe disease presentations.
“It is therefore important to collect data on the safety and the immune response to our coronavirus vaccine in these age groups, so that they could potentially benefit from inclusion in vaccination programs in the near future.”
More than 14 million people have now had their first COVID-19 vaccine, meaning the government is within touching distance of hitting its target of 15 million by Monday.
The government and the NHS have now launched a new vaccine uptake plan, urging anyone eligible for the jab who has not yet had one to come forward.
Over-70s, care home residents and staff, health and care workers and clinically extremely vulnerable patients have now all been given the opportunity to get a vaccine.