NUS to run year-long study to determine immunity of children against Covid-19

Children who plan to be vaccinated and those who have no immediate plans to be vaccinated are both eligible for the study. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - A study will be conducted by the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine to determine the immunity of children against Covid-19 over the course of a year, The Straits Times has learnt.

Assistant Professor Elizabeth Tham, from the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine's Department of Paediatrics, told ST that the school is working on putting together an observational study.

It aims to enrol 460 participants, aged five to 16 years old, to track their "holistic vaccine responses", vaccine efficacy, monitor side effects and detect asymptomatic Covid-19 infections in children.

This is because vaccination responses in children tend to differ from those of adults due to age-related differences in their immune systems.

Children who plan to be vaccinated and those who have no immediate plans to be vaccinated are both eligible for the study.

Those who are vaccinated should have received either the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine or the paediatric version of the vaccine - for those aged five to 11 - once this has been approved by the Ministry of Health (MOH).

MOH has signed an advance purchase agreement with Pfizer for its paediatric doses, which should arrive by January next year.

The paediatric vaccine uses the same mRNA, or messenger ribonucleic acid, ingredient as the adult vaccine. But a different buffer solution is used so that it can be stored under more conventional cold chain requirements.

According to a poster seen by ST to recruit participants for the study, regular blood samples to test for Covid-19 antibodies will be taken, and the child would be required to make four to nine visits to the National University Hospital over the course of a year. Each visit could take between 15 minutes and 45 minutes.

Prof Tham said that to have a holistic evaluation of the children's immune responses, all aspects of the immune repertoire will be taken - including the T and B cell responses - and not just of antibodies alone.

The child must also weigh at least 15kg to be eligible.

Questionnaires about the child's health would be taken as part of the study.

No extra costs will be borne by the participants, and they will be reimbursed for their time and transport.

More details on the study will be shared on a later date, she added.

The KK Women's and Children's Hospital said in November that it is conducting a Covid-19 vaccination trial for children aged five to 11, which will begin "as soon as everything is in place", without giving a date on when it will start.

About 150 children have been recruited for the KKH study and they will be followed for a period of 15 months.

The study, which is backed by MOH, is aimed at assessing the safety of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the immune responses among children, as well as to "evaluate operational logistics" for rolling out the vaccine at scale.

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