Innate and Adaptive Cell-Mediated Immune Responses to a COVID-19 mRNA Vaccine in Young Children

Open Forum Infect Dis. 2023 Dec 2;10(12):ofad608. doi: 10.1093/ofid/ofad608. eCollection 2023 Dec.


Background: There is little information on cell-mediated immunity (CMI) to COVID-19 mRNA vaccines in children. We studied adaptive and innate CMI in vaccinated children aged 6 to 60 months.

Methods: Blood obtained from participants in a randomized placebo-controlled trial of an mRNA vaccine before and 1 month after the first dose was used for antibody measurements and CMI (flow cytometry).

Results: We enrolled 29 children with a mean age of 28.5 months (SD, 15.7). Antibody studies revealed that 10 participants were infected with SARS-CoV-2 prevaccination. Ex vivo stimulation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells with SARS-CoV-2 spike peptides showed significant increases pre- to postimmunization of activated conventional CD4+ and γδ T cells, natural killer cells, monocytes, and conventional dendritic cells but not mucosa-associated innate T cells. Conventional T-cell, monocyte, and conventional dendritic cell responses in children were higher immediately after vaccination than after SARS-CoV-2 infection. The fold increase in CMI pre- to postvaccination did not differ between children previously infected with SARS-CoV-2 and those uninfected.

Conclusions: Children aged 6 to 60 months who were vaccinated with a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine developed robust CMI responses, including adaptive and innate immunity.

Keywords: COVID-19 mRNA vaccines; SARS-CoV-2 infection; cell-mediated immunity; children; trained immunity.