RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Significant news this morning in the battle against the pandemic - the COVID vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech appears to work in children as young as 12 years old. That news comes from results from a study the company conducted in volunteers aged 12 to 15. Joining us now to discuss details, NPR's Joe Palca. Hi, Joe.
JOE PALCA, BYLINE: Morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: So this seems like really great news. Tell us about the study.
PALCA: Yes, it does seem like good news. And I have to first say that all this information is coming from a news release that the company put out early this morning, so there are questions that you might want to ask me that I won't have the answers to because I only know what the company has said at this point.
MARTIN: I got you.
PALCA: But the trial involved about, well, 2,260 adolescents, aged 12 to 15 years old, in the United States. And half got the vaccine, and half got the placebo, approximately, and there were 18 cases of COVID among all the participants. But the good news is that all 18 were in the people who did not get the vaccine, the people who got the placebo. So that says, wow, it really is protecting people. That's not to say that - you know, this is only 2,200 people. There's millions of kids in the country.
PALCA: It's possible that when more and more get vaccinated, you'll see more cases. But, I mean, this is how you do a study. You start with a small number, and you infer that it's representative of the population. But you can't be certain, but that's how science proceeds. The other piece of good news from this study is that they looked at the immune response. They looked at the blood of these participants to see if they were generating the kinds of antibodies that are known to be protective against COVID disease, and the answer is yes - there are very strong levels of what they call neutralizing antibodies, as strong it seems as older children, so - and adults. So this is all very good news.
MARTIN: This vaccine was already authorized for kids as young as 16, right?
PALCA: That's right. They did this large study earlier, and they studied children as young as 16, and it did appear to work in them as well.
MARTIN: OK, we don't want to be greedy here...
MARTIN: ...But is there any news about children younger than 12?
PALCA: Yeah, the company announced also that it had begun a study in children 6 months to 11 years to evaluate the safety, the tolerability and the immunogenicity - that's this ability to generate the kind of immune response that you're looking for. And that study will be looking at this group of kids, so there could be more information before too terribly long.
MARTIN: Most cases of COVID are not in kids. Most kids don't get very sick. Why - explain why do they need to be vaccinated.
PALCA: Well, the whole question is, yes - first of all, you don't want them to get sick, of course, even if it's a small risk. But the second issue is, do they have a chance of passing the virus on to others if they happen to get infected? And so that's why they want to make sure to try to prevent that.
MARTIN: NPR's Joe Palca with this news this morning. Thank you.
PALCA: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.