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Grants to better understand COVID-19 in children

Institute News
Thursday, December 23, 2021 - 10:16am

As Coronavirus continues to evolve and new variants of concern emerge, two Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI) researchers have received funding to better understand how COVID-19 affects children.

Associate Professor Nigel Crawford and Dr Shidan Tosif have received grants to advance research into long COVID, ensure vaccine safety for children and adolescents, investigate whether an alternative swab method is preferable for children and how special-risk groups respond to the vaccine.

The three grants, which are worth a combined $900,000, were announced as part of the Victorian Government's Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions Understanding COVID in Victorian Children program.

Associate Professor Crawford's project will explore how paediatric special-risk groups, such as patients who have a weakened immune system, respond to the COVID-19 vaccination.

“The special-risk groups include children with an underlying chronic disease, some of whom are on therapies that weaken their immune systems,” Associate Professor Crawford said.

“Special-risk patients are at higher risk of vaccine-preventable diseases such as COVID-19 and therefore may require additional strategies to maximise protection against these diseases.”

Associate Professor Crawford said the project, which would be part of a study led by the Doherty Institute, would collect samples at optimal timepoints around the child's COVID vaccination, and store them for future analysis to help understand how these vulnerable patients respond to the vaccine.

Dr Tosif's Household Transmission and Immunity study aims to better understand how household transmission occurs in children and their immune response over time. The longitudinal study will follow up 291 participants from 84 Victorian families at 12, 24 and 36 months, using biobanking (which involves collecting samples of bodily fluid or tissue for research use).

Dr Tosif will also be investigating the Rhinoswab Junior for respiratory sample collection in children. This will be trialled as an alternative to the standard method, which requires a combined throat and deep nasal swab and can be uncomfortable and unpleasant for children.

“The Rhinoswab Junior reduces the anxiety and discomfort associated with the use of traditional nasal swabs for for those aged four to 18 years of age,”he said. “Following a successful hospital validation study, we are excited to trial the Rhinoswab for self-collection by children and their parents.”

Dr Crawford and Dr Tosif are also investigating how mRNA vaccines impact children's immune systems, in an effort to ensure vaccine safety for children and adolescents.

With COVID-19 vaccinations recently approved for children from five to 11 years old, the study aims to better understand the potential adverse events following immunisation with mRNA vaccines in children.

Dr Tosif said “this grant will help us to continue our investigation of why children are not impacted by severe disease as frequently as adults, and understanding the role of children in transmission and their immune responses to COVID-19 and vaccination.”

The Peter Doherty Institute for Infectious Diseases, The Royal Children’s Hospital COVID-19 follow up clinic and Respiratory Infection Clinic, SAEFVIC and RhinoMed will also contribute to these research projects.