Why Do Kids Need Their Own Vaccine Trials?

My younger child is two and a half, and he’s enrolled in the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine trial. At this point, he’s had both doses (three weeks apart), but we don’t know if he got the vaccine or a placebo. In our trial, two-thirds of participants get the vaccine and the rest get a placebo injection that doesn’t contain the mRNA vaccine. To be honest, I’m guessing placebo because of how minimal his physical reactions to the shots seemed to be, but it’s a bit tricky because he came down with hand, foot, and mouth disease about 24 hours after his The post Why Do Kids Need Their Own Vaccine Trials? appeared first on The Pulse.

Why Do Kids Need Their Own Vaccine Trials?

My younger child is two and a half, and he’s enrolled in the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine trial. At this point, he’s had both doses (three weeks apart), but we don’t know if he got the vaccine or a placebo. In our trial, two-thirds of participants get the vaccine and the rest get a placebo injection that doesn’t contain the mRNA vaccine.

To be honest, I’m guessing placebo because of how minimal his physical reactions to the shots seemed to be, but it’s a bit tricky because he came down with hand, foot, and mouth disease about 24 hours after his first shot. Either way, we’ll know in about six months, which is when the clinical trial folks will reveal to us which injection he got, or when the US Food and Drug Administration issues an emergency use authorization for his age group, whichever comes first.

My husband and I had several talks leading up to the decision to enroll our baby—because although he’s two and a half, he still seems like a baby to me—in the trial. We said yes to the trial in the end because our general thought process was that it’s better to have a chance of him getting the vaccine than to let him go unprotected when the Delta variant is spreading rapidly throughout the United States.

Were we worried about how his body would react to the shot? Not particularly. We trust the doctors and researchers who’ve worked—in some cases around the clock—for months to create these life-preserving injections, as well as the physicians and scientists running our local trial. They spoke to us extensively before we enrolled in the trial about what it would involve, so that we could give our fully informed consent, and they reminded us that the trial is completely voluntary. We can opt out at any time.

More importantly, we trust the science that’s led us to this point. Millions of people have received the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine since December, including my spouse and me, with very few side effects. Combined with the fact that vaccination is one of the best ways to not get COVID-19 and to minimize your chances of becoming severely ill if you do contract it, we felt grateful that there was a spot in the trial for him.

Plus, clinical trials for children are important, so we were glad that our healthy kid could, by participating, potentially help others. But why do kids need their own vaccine trials? Is it not enough that the vaccine has been extensively tested in adults? It turns out that just like vaccines should be tested in pregnant people, it’s important to test them in children too.

One reason is dosing. While the Pfizer COVID-19 is authorized for children as young as 12 years old, currently everyone receives the same dose. But young kids tend to have smaller bodies than adults, so finding the dose that will protect them adequately while causing the fewest side effects is essential. Just like in adults, the clinical trials for the COVID-19 vaccine in children started with a dosing study, in which volunteers received one of a range of doses. Once the dose that worked best for the most kids was established, then the research moved into the phase of the trial that my kiddo is in.

Another reason children need their own clinical trials is because they are still growing. Thus, their bodies work differently than those of adults in ways that can affect their development. A kid’s immune system is still so new that it may react to many immune challenges, such as those provided by a vaccine, differently than an adult’s immune system. Plus, it’s possible that receiving other childhood vaccines could somehow affect the COVID-19 vaccine’s effectiveness, so researchers need to keep an eye on that too.

Finally, children’s bodies change much more rapidly than adults’ bodies do, so it’s important to monitor those changes after something like a vaccine. Because I’m not growing much these days, it’s unlikely that my vaccine would have affected my growth and development, but that could be different for my two-and-a-half-year-old or for other kids his age. It’s a privilege to help researchers explore this and all of the other questions around the COVID-19 vaccine and kids.

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The Effect of COVID-19 Lockdowns on Language Development in Toddlers

Over the past year and a half or so, families have dealt with varying degrees of lockdowns, which included school closures and stay at home orders, brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. One thing researchers have now been able to investigate is the effects of lockdowns on childhood language development. Here we’ll review the new science and discuss how you can improve your toddler’s language development any time—pandemic or not. In early March, an international team of researchers posted a preprint—a type of scientific paper that has not yet been officially peer reviewed—on the website PsyArXiv. Since it has The post The Effect of COVID-19 Lockdowns on Language Development in Toddlers appeared first on The Pulse.

The Effect of COVID-19 Lockdowns on Language Development in Toddlers

Over the past year and a half or so, families have dealt with varying degrees of lockdowns, which included school closures and stay at home orders, brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. One thing researchers have now been able to investigate is the effects of lockdowns on childhood language development. Here we’ll review the new science and discuss how you can improve your toddler’s language development any time—pandemic or not.

In early March, an international team of researchers posted a preprint—a type of scientific paper that has not yet been officially peer reviewed—on the website PsyArXiv. [1] Since it has not yet been reviewed officially by other scientists, the findings should be interpreted cautiously, but what the team of researchers found is that what happened during COVID-19 lockdowns had a large impact on child language development.

For the study, more than 70 developmental psychologists, linguists, and other researchers analyzed language development in 1,742 8 to 36 months old children from 13 countries and across 12 languages. The team recruited caregivers (mostly parents) from around the world to take an online survey about their children’s vocabulary at the beginning of daycare closures (around March 2020) and another survey when daycares reopened (as late as September 2020).

In addition to asking about the children’s receptive and expressive language—that is, how much they understand and how much they speak—the initial questionnaire also included demographic information about child age, family income, and parent education level. The follow up questionnaire solicited information about what activities children and parents participated in during lockdown.

The interpretation of the questionnaires revealed that children who watched less TV, including cartoons and baby shows, and whose parents read to them more showed larger improvements in their vocabularies than children who were read to less and had more passive screen time. Interestingly, most children showed some degree of vocabulary improvement during lockdown.

In a Twitter thread describing the work, senior author Julien Mayor, a developmental psychologist at the University of Oslo, explained that there are a couple of possible explanations of this general phenomenon of children learning more words. “Were caregivers more aware of their child’s language during lockdown? Did vocabulary development benefit from this unprecedented period of interaction between caregivers & their children?” he asked. “These two interpretations are not mutually exclusive: greater knowledge of children’s vocabulary allows caregivers to fine-tune their input to the child, in turn potentially leading to better outcomes.” [2]

In the PsyArXiv study, the researchers excluded participants in bi- or multilingual households, instead focusing on families where the primary language was spoken at least 90 percent of the time. In another study, published in Frontiers in Psychology in July, a group of researchers based at the University of Delaware and San Jose State University in California tested language acquisition in young children in bilingual households, where both Mandarin and English are spoken. [3]

The researchers in the Frontiers study used parent questionnaires and visual and audio child comprehension activities to compare language acquisition in two groups of 38 children, specifically four- to eight-year-olds, one during, when stay-at-home orders were likely to be in place, and one before the COVID-19 pandemic. They found that children during the pandemic experienced a Mandarin language environment that was richer and also were more likely to use Mandarin themselves, compared to their peers before the pandemic, whose environment and language use was weighted toward English.

What does all this mean? Basically, regardless of whether your family speaks one language or more and the age of your babies, it helps to speak and read to your children, early and often. As this blog post from The Pulse makes clear, early reading has a variety of benefits for your child, including fostering language development.

  1. Kartushina et al., “COVID-19 first lockdown as a unique window into language acquisition: What you do (with your child) matters,” PsyArXiv. doi:10.31234/osf.io/5ejwu, 2021.
  2. Mayor (@julien__mayor), “A year after launching the project, it is a great pleasure to announce that we have a preprint…” Twitter, 8 March 2021, twitter.com/julien__mayor/status/1368948372971913216.
  3. Li et al., “The Bilingual Home Language Boost Through the Lens of the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Frontiers in Psychology, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2021.667836, 2021.

The post The Effect of COVID-19 Lockdowns on Language Development in Toddlers appeared first on The Pulse.

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