SALT LAKE CITY — As the COVID-19 vaccine opens to everyone 16 and older in Utah, one Salt Lake Valley research company is carrying out clinical trials for the next and youngest age groups.
And they're saying that the next trial is studying something completely new with the vaccine.
Foothill Family Clinic in Salt Lake City doubles as a research site for J. Lewis Research. The company has been helping Pfizer study the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine from adults to teens — and soon, kids down to infants just six months old.
The lab was also involved in Pfizer and Moderna trials in the fall before the vaccines received federal authorization.
On Monday, Sabine Planelles waited in an exam room with her mother Audrey Dufel. The two have been to many appointments for Sabine the past several months.
They know the drill: COVID-19 nasal swab test, blood draw, shot, health questions, waiting period.
"The swabs were the worst part, for sure," Sabine said with a laugh.
Just a little discomfort for the sake of science.
The 17-year old can proudly say she's one of the reasons Pfizer vaccine appointments are now available to everyone in Utah 16 and older.
"I just thought it would be a really good way to give back," she said.
Dufel helped sign her daughter up for the double-blind study after learning about the Pfizer clinical trials.
"I was hoping that being part of a study that would allow those kids to get the vaccine was important," Dufel said.
Sabine may be near the end of her study, but the data gathering continues for J. Lewis Research. Now, they're solely focused on teens younger than Sabine.
"Very interesting things going on with our study participants ages 12, 13, 14, 15. We've been watching them for several months, tracking their data," J. Lewis Research principal investigator Dr. James Peterson said.
Dr. Peterson explained they've given out two doses of the real or placebo Pfizer vaccine to 4,000 kids and young teens. They're now having those 4,000 participants administer a self-swab test every two weeks for COVID-19.
It'll help tell researchers how effective the vaccine is on the 12-15 age group.
Plus, Dr. Peterson talked about how it's the first time they're tracking asymptomatic cases in addition to symptomatic cases in relation to the vaccine.
"It's an unknown with these vaccines that hasn't been studied to this point," he said. "And this group is really going to be answering those questions."
They've still got several weeks to go, but Dr. Peterson described how they're almost done with that data gathering. After that, the data will be ready for analysis — which will show the vaccine's efficacy, potentially leading to public availability for those 12-15 years old.
Even if they're nearing the end of the study, he said it still could be several months before the study is finished, and the vaccine ready for rollout.
In the meantime, Dr. Peterson said J. Lewis Research will begin enrolling those ages 6 months to 11 years old in about two to three months for the final and youngest group for Pfizer to study.
Pfizer is beginning Phase 1 of the study, which Dr. Peterson said J. Lewis Research will not be involved in. They will join for Phases 2 and 3.
Phase 1, he said, will involve figuring out the right dose for kids. He said the ages are broken up into three chunks: 6 months to 2 years old, 2 to 5 years old, and 5 to 11 years old.
He said the study will start with the oldest group and giving out the lowest dose, then medium dose, then potentially a higher dose.
Once the dosage is figured out, J. Lewis Research will help figure out the Pfizer vaccine's efficacy in infants and children.
Just like with the older age groups, Dr. Peterson explained that they will give out the placebo or real vaccine, then track side effects and efficacy.
"We know that vaccinating teenagers and younger children will be crucial to stopping the spread among the whole population," he said.
Sabine eventually found out that she was on the placebo group for the 16+ clinical trial.
On Friday, her appointment was meant to catch her up to those who received the real deal.
"Today I'm getting the second dose," she said.
"Of the real thing," her mom clarified.
"Yeah. Not the placebo this time," Sabine echoed.
On the day her age group became eligible to sign up for the vaccine in Salt Lake County, Sabine took her own final steps for a study she'd sign up for again in an instant.
"Definitely," she said, adding: "Next pandemic, for sure."