The Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine will be tested on children aged between 6 and 17 in a new trial.
Some 300 volunteers will take part, with the first vaccinations in the trial taking place later in February.
Researchers say they will assess whether the vaccine produces a strong immune response in children aged between six and 17.
The vaccine is one of two being used to protect against serious illness and death from Covid-19 in the UK, along with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
As many as 240 children will receive the vaccine – and the others a control meningitis vaccine – when the trial gets under way.
Volunteers who live near one of the four study sites – the University of Oxford, St George’s University Hospital, London, University Hospital Southampton and Bristol Royal Hospital for Children – are being asked to sign up.
Those interested in taking part must complete a short questionnaire.
Andrew Pollard, professor of pediatric infection and immunity, and chief investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial, noted that most children were relatively unaffected by Covid and were unlikely to become unwell with the virus.
However, Prof. Pollard said it was important to establish the safety and immune response to the vaccine in children and young people as some children might benefit from vaccination.
There are currently no plans for children to be vaccinated with the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine in the UK, as it has only been authorized to prevent Covid-19 in people aged 18 or over.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is only authorized in those aged over 16. The vaccine priority list also excludes anyone under the age of 16, even the clinically extremely vulnerable.
The University of Oxford said it was the first trial of a Covid vaccine in the 6 to 17 age group. It said other trials had begun but only measuring efficacy in those aged 16 and 17.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also backed the EU’s approach in a TV interview.
France’s health regulator said there was still not enough data about the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine for patients over 65 years of age.
“These data will arrive in the coming weeks. In the meantime we recommend its use for people under 65 years old,” it said.
It recommended the vaccine for health workers and vulnerable people between the ages of 50 and 65.
More than 1.5 million people have received a Covid vaccine so far in France.
Last week Germany’s vaccine commission said it could not recommend the use of the vaccine in people aged over 65.
On February 2, health authorities in Sweden and Poland made similar announcements and Belgium’s health minister said the vaccine, for the moment, would only be given to people below the age of 55. Italy’s medicines agency on Saturday also approved the jab for all adults under 55.
In a study yet to be formally published, scientists at Oxford University have said the vaccine could lead to a “substantial” fall in the spread of the virus.
Individual EU countries are free to decide who vaccines should be given to once they have been approved at EU level.
In her TV interview on Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said “every vaccine is welcome in the European Union”, adding that good data had emerged for the Russian Sputnik V vaccine.
In her interview with Le Monde, Ursula von der Leyen admitted that the EU had made missteps.
She said: “When you make urgent decisions – and in this year of crisis we’ve taken around 900 – there’s always the chance of missing something.”
However, Ursula von der Leyen said 18 million vaccine doses had been delivered across the EU so far and many more would follow over the next two months.
No-one who received the Oxford vaccine in trials was hospitalized or became seriously ill due to Covid-19.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine is given via two injections to the arm, the second between 4 and 12 weeks after the first.
When it approved it last week, the EMA noted that most participants in test studies were under 55 years of age.
The agency said that while there were not yet enough results to show how well the vaccine will work in older people, “protection is expected, given that an immune response is seen in this age group and based on experience with other vaccines”.
AstraZeneca has said a US study will shortly provide additional data on the vaccine’s efficacy in older adults.
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