Moderna, the manufacturer of the vaccine against Covid-19 used in the Northwest Territories, has begun tests involving children aged six months to 12 years.
The study will involve 6,750 children in Canada and the United States. Where, exactly, in Canada has not been specified, and it is not clear how many children have already been accepted into the program and received their first shots.
Research into the vaccine’s ability to protect children, and its potential side effects, is important to the NWT as the lack of vaccination among children is one of the last outstanding concerns within the territory.
Nobody living in the Northwest Territories has so far died of complications related to Covid-19 and, as of Monday, the territory had provided at least one vaccine dose to almost 20,000 people, or around half its population. That vaccination rate far exceeds almost any other jurisdiction in the world.
However, only adults are so far eligible for the vaccine. There is no set date for children to begin receiving the vaccine, primarily because no reliable research exists demonstrating the vaccine’s impact in that age group.
Moderna’s study will assess the safety and effectiveness in young children of two doses given a month apart, much as doses are currently administered in the NWT.
A separate study involving children aged 12 to 17 began in December. That study’s results are anticipated this summer.
Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer each have plans to start testing their own vaccines on young children, while AstraZeneca began similar tests last month.
In Moderna’s test, which is split into two halves, children will at first mostly receive smaller doses than those given to adults. They will then be monitored for reactions. Later participants in the study will be given higher doses.
Researchers will subsequently evaluate which dose was the safest and most effective for each age group, and children in the study’s second half will receive either the recommended dose or a placebo shot.
Children in the study will be tracked for a year to monitor the appearance of any side effects and see how antibody levels change.
The NWT has said the potential risk to children remains one of the barriers preventing the territory from fully dismantling its Covid-19 public health restrictions as more adults are vaccinated. However, it isn’t the only factor.
Dr Kami Kandola, the chief public health officer, has repeatedly stressed that the situation in southern Canada and beyond must first improve before restrictions related to travel and isolation can be rolled back.
There is, though, a chance that internal restrictions such as those related to gatherings and events could be loosened in the months ahead.
The NWT government is widely expected to announce a move to phase three of its pandemic reopening plan in April. Among other things, that would lift restrictions on the size of outdoor gatherings as long as appropriate health measures are in place.