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Britain to test AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in children

A father greets his daughter after arriving in a Eurostar train from Paris, in St Pancras station in London. File Photo by Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA-EFE
A father greets his daughter after arriving in a Eurostar train from Paris, in St Pancras station in London. File Photo by Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA-EFE

Feb. 13 (UPI) -- Britain plan to test the the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in children as young as 6 this month, the university announced Saturday.

Researchers will test the efficacy of the vaccine through a clinical trial of 300 volunteers, ages 6 to 17, to determine if it produces a strong immune response, The Guardian reported. Up to 240 children will receive the vaccine in the trial this month and others will receive a control meningitis shot.

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The University of Oxford said while other vaccines have begun testing teenagers, theirs was the first COVID-19 trial in the age group, 6-17.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound negative impact on the education, social development and emotional wellbeing of children and adolescents, beyond illness and rare severe disease presentations," Rinn Song, pediatrician and clinician-scientists at the Oxford Vaccine Group said in a statement. "It is therefore important to collect data on the safety of the immune response to our coronavirus vaccine in these age groups, so that they could potentially benefit from inclusion in vaccine programs in the near future."

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The AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved for adults in Britain along with Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

"While most children are relatively unaffected by coronavirus and are unlikely to become unwell with the infection, it is important to establish the safety and immune response to the vaccine in children and young people as some children may benefit from vaccination," chief investigator of the trial Andrew Pollard said. "These new trials will extend our understanding of control of Sars-CoV2 to younger age groups."

Britain has reported over 4 million cases and over 116,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University global tracker.

Children consistently account for 1% to 5% of total COVID-19 case numbers in reports, the professional body for pediatricians in Britain, Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health noted.

"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," the RCPCH said. "There is evidence of critical illness and death in children, but it is rare.

"There is also some evidence that children may be less likely to acquire the infection," the RCPCH added. "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 adult."

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The Pfizer-BioNtech, AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines approved for use in the the European Union are designed to be injected in two doses.

France's High Authority of Health, known as the HAS, appeared to be the first to recommend only a single dose rather than two for people who have already been infected, a statement shows.

"At this stage of knowledge, people who have already been infected retain an immune memory," the statement said. "This leads the HAS to offer only one dose to people who have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, regardless of how long the infection has been. The single does of vaccine will thus act as a booster."

The single dose will be delivered at least three months and ideally closer to six months after COVID-19 infection, according to the independent body's recommendation.

France's top health authority noted some exceptions, including people with proven immunosuppression and people who contract COVID-19 shortly after getting a single dose of the vaccine.

People who become infected shortly after receiving the first dose of vaccine should wait three to six months before getting a second dose, the health authority recommended.

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France has reported over 3.4 million cases and over 80,900 deaths from COVID-19, according to the global tracker.

In Canada, a new variant of COVID-19, B117, first discovered in Britain that is believed to be more contagious than the original strain, has led to a lockdown in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, chief medical officer of health, said in an emergency briefing Friday evening that tests had confirmed the widespread presence of the COVID-19 variant.

Saturday's provincial election has continued with only mail-in voting, amid cancelation of in-person voting with the deadline extended to Monday, and the ballot count delayed for at least two weeks.

Canada has reported 824,611 COVID-19 cases and 21,168 COVID-19 death, according to the global tracker.

In China, World Health Organization independent investigators, who recently returned from a trip to Wuhan to study to the origins of COVID-19, said Chinese scientists refused to share raw data to help with understanding the pandemic. The investigators sought compromise and praised the Chinese government for transparency, but pushed for more research about the outbreak in Wuhan in 2019.

China has reported over 100,571 cases and 4,829 deaths to date, the global tracker shows.

Worldwide, COVID-19 has infected over 108 million and killed over 2.3 million, the same tracker shows.

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