The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston has been selected by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, to conduct pediatric vaccine trials for the H1N1 (swine flu) virus. 

The pediatric trials are especially important for several reasons, said Dr. Christine Turley, vice chairwoman for pediatric clinical services and a scientist with the Sealy Center for Vaccine Development at UTMB. She explained that the virus potentially could affect younger people particularly hard. 

Turley said that there could be another outbreak of the flu just as school begins, making the trials even more important to families across the nation. “We want to help parents protect their children from this disease,” Turley said. “The virus could hit pre-teens and teenagers especially hard. An effective vaccine will be an important part of the plan to protect the most vulnerable parts of our population. The help of the community is essential as we work to understand how best to produce an effective response to the pandemic.” 

According to Turley, because older individuals have been exposed to influenza viruses many times in previous seasons, researchers believe there is some protection that will cross over in their immune systems to the new virus strain. “However, because children have had so many fewer seasons of exposure to influenza, their immune systems are considered naïve and at much higher risk for serious illness and death than adults,” Turley said. “This is a key reason that the vaccine is being studied in children so quickly.” 

The government in April declared the H1N1 virus a public health emergency, and the World Health Organization has classified the H1N1 virus as a pandemic, which reflects the widespread nature of the outbreak. 

UTMB will be conducting the trials as part of the government-funded H1N1 vaccines trial effort, under a subcontract with Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine. Baylor is an NIAID Vaccine Treatment and Evaluation Unit, one of eight federally-funded sites taking part in studies that will help determine the best dose of experimental vaccines designed to protect against the H1N1 virus. 

In addition to Baylor and UTMB, other sites taking part in the pediatric vaccine trials include Cincinnati Children’s Hospital VTEU, Emory University VTEU, Saint Louis University VTEU, Seattle Children’s Hospital (affiliated with the Seattle Group Health Cooperative VTEU), the University of Iowa VTEU, the University of Maryland School of Medicine VTEU and Vanderbilt University VTEU. They will be joined by Children’s Mercy Hospital in Missouri and Duke University Medical Center. 

Those interested in more information about the study or participating in the pediatric H1N1 virus vaccine trials being conducted at UTMB, please send an e-mail to pedicltl@utmb.edu or call Karen Waterman, Carrie Harrington or Diane Barrett at 409-772-1696.