My Teens Are Coronavirus Vaccine Guinea Pigs

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On a gray January afternoon, we were ushered into a gray exam room in downtown Minneapolis to learn the details of participating. A research coordinator explained that Moderna would pay the kids $75 per office visit and $30 per week for diary entries about their symptoms, which could total more than $1,000 over 13 months.

Sullivan explained the known risks of side effects from the vaccine, and Wes and Zoe’s enthusiasm only dwindled when she described the multiple nasal swabs and blood draws they were agreeing to (up to four of each over the course of six visits). But, buoyed by the possibility of being able to see their friends safely and, in the case of my son, upgrading his AirPods, they rolled up their sleeves.

Wes, looked like he was going to pass out during the blood sample draw, so the woman with the syringe, Karla McBrady, kept up an upbeat chatter: “I just want to say thank you for doing this! You may not even realize how much this is helping other people.”

Clinical trials typically begin with adult subjects, because they can give informed consent and serious side effects can be identified before kids are tested. Researchers also like to test vaccines on various ages separately because some aren’t safe or don’t work in younger people, said Dr. Robert Jacobson, a pediatrician and medical director of the Mayo Clinic’s Primary Care Immunization Program in Rochester, Minn. For example, the M.M.R. (measles, mumps and rubella), chickenpox and hepatitis A vaccines do not work well in those under 12 months, and the flu shot doesn’t work in babies under 6 months.

By testing increasingly younger ages, researchers hope to determine whether side effects play out similarly in adolescents and whether the vaccine reaches the same 95 percent efficacy in kids that it does in adults. That seems likely, given “the generally healthy and robust immune response in children 12 to 16 years old,” said Dr. Jill Weatherhead, an assistant professor of infectious disease at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

For the Covid vaccine, the most serious side effects have been severe allergic reactions (just 10 cases of anaphylaxis were detected out of 4,041,396 first doses of the Moderna vaccine, nine of which occurred in people who had known allergies). That’s a risk we were willing to take, but even seemingly small risks aren’t for everyone, Dr. Jacobson noted.

For Wes and Zoe, the shot itself was anticlimactic; even needle-averse Wes said it hardly hurt. Still, since most allergic reactions can occur within 30 minutes of a shot, we had to wait around for an hour afterward.

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