Taking ‘extremely safe’ approach with younger people
The coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine is not being administered to the local student population under the age of 18 because no trials have been conducted on younger people and of the possible effects to their health.
Acting Director of Medical Services, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Dr Clyde Cave, who is also a paediatrician, gave this explanation to secondary school students on Friday during a virtual panel discussion hosted by the Ministry of Education, Technological and Vocational Training.
The focus was on COVID-19 and the safe return to school.
“In medicine, it has always been traditional that we protect growing people – babies, pregnant mothers, younger people – because we know that a growing organism is more susceptible to the effects of drugs and also long-term effects of drugs, than adults who have reached a steady state of growth.
“So, it’s not that it is being withheld from younger people; it is not that there is any suspicion that it’s bad for younger people or they having side effects. It’s just that we need to be absolutely sure and not be telling you in ten years’ time, ‘oops if we had waited a little bit longer’, we might have realised that this affects something that could be a potential problem for you,” Cave explained.
The paediatrician noted that so far there has been no indication that there is a potential problem, “but people are being extremely safe, and as soon as it is safe for younger people, which means we see how it works, and then trials take place, and we give it some time, . . . and as soon as it is released for younger people, I’m sure it would be made available to teenagers in Barbados”.
Cave also sought to clarify any misconceptions about the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines due to the short time frame of development.
“There are many concerns whenever a vaccine is developed and we are all aware that we have really developed this vaccine quite quickly, not as quickly and without precedent, as many people make you think . . . . We do develop a new flu shot every year and based on a certain kind of technology, there is like a base waiting to be customised, and that’s what happened with the AstraZeneca and the Johnson & Johnson vaccines, they are using the conventional model.
“What is new is that the other types of vaccines that use a messenger RNA, Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, use a slightly different technology and that certainly was developed out of necessity,” he said.
Cave encouraged the students to consider their choices wisely when the option is made available for them to be vaccinated. He pointed out that COVID-19 does not just affect them as an individual, but it can also have a direct effect on and consequences for their family and friends. “This is one disease where it’s not just about the person being infected, it’s about how we all interact together,” Cave said.
Moderna announced this week that it had vaccinated the first set of children in a COVID-19 vaccine trial.
The study is being conducted in collaboration with the United States National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority at the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Moderna is not the only Covid-19 vaccine currently being tested in children, as the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine is being studied in children as well. Johnson & Johnson has announced plans to study the vaccine in adolescents, ages 12 to 18.