SINGAPORE: A trial to vaccinate children aged five to 11 against COVID-19 could begin as early as next week, involving about 150 participants.
The study by the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital aims to look at the Pfizer vaccine's efficacy and safety among children in Singapore, said Dr Yung Chee Fu, an infectious diseases consultant at the hospital's paediatrics department, on Friday (Nov 19).
It is also expected to help smoothen the process when Singapore rolls out the vaccine at scale.
"Vaccinating children is not the same as vaccinating adults. So we're looking at a whole broad range of logistical issues that can come up," said Dr Yung.
He added that the recruitment for participants has closed, just days after it opened on Tuesday, after an "excellent" response. He did not provide sign-up figures.
"We need to go through the individuals who have registered their interest. We are heartened by the response so far, it's been excellent. And we hope when everything's in place, to start the trial itself."
Two of the volunteers are from the Foong family - 10-year-old Nathan and eight-year-old Phoebe.
Their parents, Elvin and Esther Foong, said the decision was made after much discussion.
"They've seen a lot of their relatives, a lot of their friends get COVID. And they've also seen that because some of them are vaccinated, they actually recover a lot faster," said Mr Foong.
"So with that information, they were more prepared to say they don't mind giving it a try."
The family is also hoping to travel to Malaysia to reunite with their grandfather, after being apart for two years.
"All of us miss our parents, but we have reservations in going back because sometimes there are so many cases," said Mrs Foong.
"With the kids being vaccinated, plus us being vaccinated, we feel that it's a bit safer for us to go back."
TRIAL EVALUATION PROCESS, DOSAGE
Dr Yung said there is a thorough evaluation process in place for the trial.
Participants who take part in the trial should not be immunocompromised or have any serious illness, but those with mild and well-controlled conditions such as asthma and eczema will be eligible.
They should not have been infected by COVID-19 before as well.
Under the trial, children will get two shots of the paediatric dose. As recommended by manufacturer Pfizer, the dose will be one-third of the adult shot. They will be observed for 30 minutes after receiving each dose.
Parents will receive a vaccine diary to note down observations in their children for the first seven days, such as whether they experience any side effects like a fever or rashes.
The children will be monitored for 15 months and return to the hospital for regular check-ups.
Blood samples will also be taken to track their antibody levels.
Dr Yung said the trial is an important step to get young children protected, especially as children in that age group are one of the most vulnerable now.
"They are actually at the highest risk to get what we call an inflammatory response post COVID, which can be quite severe. And we've had a number of cases."
He was referring to six children aged from two months to 11 years old, who had been infected with the MIS-C syndrome - where organs in the body get inflamed due to COVID-19, and patients may need intensive care.
Getting inoculated could thus protect children from severe illness, said Dr Yung, adding that the vaccine's safety has been well-documented.
A trial by Pfizer, involving more than 2,000 children in the United States and Europe, has shown the vaccine is 90 per cent effective in protecting children aged five to 11 against COVID-19.
They also reported fewer side effects compared to the adult population.
Following the US authorities' approval of the vaccine for that age group, Singapore's expert committee on COVID-19 vaccination is expected to make a recommendation later this month on its use among children here.
Health Minister Ong Ye Kung had also announced at a multi-ministerial task force press briefing on Monday that the country has inked a supply deal with Pfizer for the paediatric vaccine.
As Singapore reopens, vaccination for children will be key in allowing them to resume more activities, said Dr Yung.
"There's been significant disruption to all our children in terms of their education process, their social interactions, what they can do in schools. Hopefully this will be the next step to allow us to come back to the new norm, as much as we can."