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Kristina De Paris, PhD, and Sallie Permar, MD, PhD, received a supplement from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to test Moderna’s mRNA vaccine and a protein vaccine designed by Kizzy Corbett and Barney Graham.

Sallie Permar, MD, PhD

The team of Kristina De Paris, PhD, associate professor of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and Sallie Robey Permar, MD, PhD, professor of Pediatrics at Duke University are known for their work on the NIH-funded HIVRAD project that aims to exploit early life vaccination with HIV envelope germline-targeting trimer (SOSIP) immunogens or HIV Env mRNA vaccines to induce broadly neutralizing antibodies that will protect against HIV acquisition in adolescence. Expanding on this expertise, Drs. De Paris and Permar received a supplement to their existing grant to assess the immunogenicity and efficacy of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines using infant rhesus macaques.

De Paris and Permar will test the immunogenicity and efficacy of two candidate SARS-CoV-2 vaccines in infant monkeys: the Moderna mRNA vaccine which is currently in Phase 3 clinical trials at multiple sites including UNC, and the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein vaccine developed by UNC School of Medicine alum Kizzmekia Corbett and Barney Graham from the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory and Translational Science Core at the NIAID.

The current clinical SARS-CoV-2 vaccine trials are conducted in human adults. Although human infants are not considered a high-risk population for COVID-19, there is evidence of prolonged shedding, and therefore increased SARS-CoV-2 transmission risk from infants to adults. De Paris and Permar propose that a pediatric SARS-CoV-2 vaccine could potentially provide lifelong protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection, reduce viral spread, and be easily implemented in the global pediatric vaccine schedule.

As age de-escalation studies in humans are expensive and time consuming, De Paris and Permer hope to provide data that will de-risk the investigation of these vaccines in the pediatric population so that a vaccine that can be administered in early life and generate long term immunity.

Dirk Dittmer, PhD, professor of Microbiology and Immunology and Director of the Virology and Global Oncology Programs and UNC Viral Genomics Core, Ralph Baric, PhD, distinguished professor of Epidemiology and professor of Microbiology and Immunology, and Michael Hudgens, PhD, professor in the Department of Biostatistics, will also be involved in this study.