By JoAnn Weaver
A St. Louis doctor is working with the National Institute of Health and CDC to complete COVID-19 vaccine trials and testing studies in local school districts.
Dr. Jason Newland, pediatric infectious disease physician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Washington University St. Louis, and his team completed a pilot research study for the CDC, which ran from January to March.
“We partnered with the Pattonville School District, University City School District and the Rockwood School District, to investigate COVID-19 transmissions in schools,” Newland said.
While CDC health guidelines for the pandemic have been extremely politicized, the study’s research found that the CDC recommended guidelines of washing your hands, wearing a mask, and not going to school when you are sick, were highly effective.
“There is a crazy number of COVID-19 transmissions at schools,” Newland said. “It’s an interesting project in the respect that this is voluntary, so some people do not agree to get weekly testing because if they have a positive COVID-19 test then it may impact their livelihood.”
“In spite of this, we have received a good amount of participation.”
This research study concluded there was a 1% COVID 19 transmission rate in schools with students with masks.
Newland is currently working on a project where he and his team analyze how to best utilize COVID-19 testing in local school districts.
“This project involves five school districts in North St. Louis County including Jennings, Normandy, University City, Ferguson-Florissant, and Pattonville with participants of all ages, including those under the age of 12,” Newland said.
A key part of these studies is transparency. Newland makes sure participants are informed about everything happening to ensure accurate testing.
“People usually have questions, so we do our best to answer them all from those who have them in our predominantly Black school districts because we also believe in accurate testing,” Newland said. “We provide testing to all community members, including students, teachers, staff, parents, and others.”
This study will be completed during the 2020-21 school year.
Newland is also working with the NIH on the Moderna vaccine trials, which has over 5,000 participants.
“We initially received interest from 5,000 families and over 10,000 children, who are enrolled in a registry, which we select from randomly,” Newland said. “Our team did a good job to ensure we had a diverse population that will be reflected in the trials.”
The vaccine trials are estimated to last 6-8 weeks, which is until early October, although researchers await more information.
Newland estimates that a vaccine for children ages 6-11 should be available by November. He went on to advocate for people who are eligible for the vaccine to get it to protect kids defenseless against COVID-19.
“Ninety-five percent of people being hospitalized for COVID-19 are unvaccinated,” Newland said. “The vaccination rate of the elderly population is between 70-80%, so we are seeing a younger population, who have contracted COVID-19, fill hospital beds.
According to current data, Newland believes the delta variant is not as deadly in children, but there are a higher number of cases where kids have contracted the virus.
“I would say in children, the delta variant has not shown itself to be more severe, just more kids are getting it,” Newland said. “When more kids get it, then there will be more hospitalizations to watch them.”
Newland continues to dispel myths around the vaccine while he encourages people to get it.
“The reality is that it is safe because millions of doses have been administered and it has continuously shown itself to be safe, that’s number one,” Newland said. “Number two is to wear a mask because the research shows transmission of the virus while wearing a mask is way down.”