Clinical Trials: One Family’s Experience During COVID-19

I’m the father of two boys—13 and 8—and an adolescent medicine specialist at Duke Health in North Carolina. I’d like to share my thoughts about the COVID-19 pandemic, and safe and effective vaccines to protect children and teens, from my perspective as a pediatrician and a parent.

As the coronavirus spread across the country, I became increasingly alarmed.

In December 2020, pediatric clinical trials got underway for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. I work closely with some of the researchers leading the effort at Duke, where I have seen patients, taught medical students and conducted research for 10 years.

Initial data on the safety and effectiveness of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in adults was really positive. Meanwhile, infections were surging. We, pediatricians, all felt a strong desire to find a vaccine to prevent the spread.

My son Caleb was 12 at the time and qualified to enroll in a pediatric clinical trial. I talked with Caleb and my wife, and Caleb was interested in participating. He had never been a research participant before, but once we figured out all the details of what would be involved and discussed the potential benefits and the risks of any research, he quickly was on board.

Our younger son, Joshua, who is 8, so admired his brother’s contribution that he himself volunteered to participate in the vaccine trial for 5-11 year olds.

Kids helping other kids

This trial couldn’t have happened without the kids. Testing a vaccine for children is not something adults can do. That’s the beautiful aspect of this: Kids volunteered to do something to help other kids. This is a great example of how young people have helped society.

It’s been a positive experience for Caleb, Joshua, and for our family—seeing the success of the vaccine and knowing that we were able to contribute.

Vaccines for children are key to ending this pandemic. Children can get severely ill and hospitalized from COVID, which we’ve seen happen in rising numbers since summer.

The good news is that, based on clinical trial data that Caleb and so many other children and teens participated in, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized COVID vaccines for kids age 5 and up. Clinical trials continue for children as young as six months old.

We’re super proud of Caleb, Joshua, and all the other kids who have given of themselves so that vaccination could move forward and everybody can benefit.

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