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Moderna chief: Covid-19 vaccine not expected to be unsafe for children

Covid-19 has often described as a disease that affects older people. But researchers say children can also get seriously ill.

There is no evidence that it's unsafe for children to receive Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine, the company’s president said Wednesday.

In an exclusive interview with Savannah Guthrie on the "TODAY" show, Dr. Stephen Hoge said his company has begun testing its vaccine on children, ages 6 months to 12 years. The new trial, likely to take most of this year, will involve nearly 7,000 children in the United States and Canada.

"We certainly have not seen anything concerning in any of our prior work that would suggest we can’t use the vaccine in children," he said.

In a separate study which began in December, Moderna was also testing its vaccine in adolescents between 12 and 18 years old. Hoge hopes the data from that trial will arrive by the summer so that children in that age group can be vaccinated going into the new school year.

But the new study on babies and younger children is going to take a bit longer.

“The reason for that is — you do need to be a little more cautious in progressing and working down dose levels to find the right dose,” Hoge said.

Covid-19 has often been described as a disease that affects older people — but even young people without underlying health conditions may get very sick, experts say. The pandemic has so far claimed more than 2.6 million lives worldwide.

Hoge said Moderna is expected to deliver 100 million shots to the U.S. by the end of this month. The vaccine maker received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration in December, paving the way to ramp up vaccination efforts in the U.S.

Hoge said the company has also started testing a new booster shot, an updated second-generation vaccine against the variants first identified in South Africa and Brazil, last week.

“That booster is something we are trying to have available by perhaps the fall of this year, in case those new variants emerge and become a threat in the fall or winter of 2021,” he said.

There is no evidence yet to suggest that the coronavirus has mutated in a way that makes it able to evade the existing vaccines, but the prospect remains a serious concern for scientists around the world.

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Moderna expects to produce 700 million doses for worldwide use in 2021, and is working to supply up to 1 billion doses by the end of the year.

Moderna’s trials in children come as vaccination efforts in Europe were stymied after immunizations with a vaccine from another major drugmaker, AstraZeneca, have been paused due to concerns over reports of blood clots in some patients who received it.

Hoge said public health officials and regulators in the countries that have suspended vaccinations need to make the best decision on “imperfect information.”

“I think the best advice we can offer is: let’s wait for the data to evolve and look into it,” he said.