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‘LAST IN LINE?’ Health experts explain challenges of developing a vaccine for children

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Moderna vaccine at Hunt's Pharmacy in Rochester

ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- While many are waiting for the COVID-19 vaccine, one population is not even able to get in line. Children.

"More than 318 children have died. Children need safe and effective vaccines," said Dr. Robert Jacobsen, Mayo Population Health Science Program Director.

Right now, the Moderna vaccine is only recommended for those 18 and older. Pfizer is recommended for people 16 and older, due to European trials in some children. In the United States, trials on children 12 and older began late last year.

"That might lead us to having approval to use the vaccine in children 12 to 15 by early fall," Jacobsen said.

With so many people waiting in line, some still do not trust the vaccine. They point to cases where people have died shortly after receiving a dose, including instances in Minnesota.

"There is no evidence that any of those deaths were vaccine related," said Kris Ehresmann, Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Infectious Disease Director.

Dr. Jacobsen has also seen those claims before. Even before the COVID-19 vaccine was going out in Rochester, anti-vaccine billboards in the Med City warned of the supposed dangers and risk of death associated with vaccines.

"The billboards in Rochester are based on people who did not have their injuries caused by vaccines," Jacobsen said. "In one case, the baby is known to and was determined by the coroner to have died from overlying syndrome. The parent had overlain the baby while sleeping and the baby suffocated."

In addition to debunking myths, he also assured people that tens of thousands of people are tested in trials before a vaccine is authorized for emergency use. He adds that ongoing monitoring of the vaccine continues even after approval.

"It's actually far safer than the prescriptions drugs we use day to day and other drugs like vitamins or minerals," Jacobsen said. "The Food and Drug Administration is not relaxing or cutting corners on the data it demands."

While he says the vaccine is nothing to worry about, there are concerning trends across the state.

"Over the past month, northwest Minnesota and south central Minnesota have begun experiencing an increase in case growth," said MDH Assistant Commissioner Dan Huff.

MDH has a new safety recommendation for school age children for in-person learning and slowing case growth in communities.

"We're asking families to get tested every two weeks from now until the end of the school year," Huff said.

The MDH's new guidelines are a recommendation and not a requirement to going back to in-person learning.

Still being tested, Dr. Jacobsen says the vaccine for children aged 12 to 17 will be similar to the adult version. Manufacturers are studying the proper dosage and scheduling to administer the vaccine in adolescents.

Studies in children younger than 12 will begin later.

Alex Tejada

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