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

By: Richard Chung, MD, FAAP

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.

I wanted to fight back against the pandemic

By Caleb Chung

It was a great opportunity that I was able to participate in a vaccine clinical trial, especially since I had just turned 12 and barely made it into the group to qualify.

It was a new experience because I had never been in a research study before. I didn't know how it was going to play out. It was, like, a lot to think about.

But I decided to participate because I wanted to fight back against the pandemic and help get the vaccine for my age group. My motivation to do that was stronger than any hesitancy I felt about blood draws or side effects.

A week or two after I decided to participate, I had my first visit. My weight, height and blood pressure were checked and they gave me my first shot. The next day I had a headache, sore throat, chills and arm pain. I hoped that it meant I got the vaccine and not a placebo.

Some of my friends from school also participated or applied to participate. We all wanted to be done with the pandemic and move forward as fast as we could. We were, like, really motivated to help out.

After my second visit in early January, I had similar symptoms except a little stronger. Later we found out that I did get the vax. I was protected, although I kept wearing a mask, social distancing and washing my hands.

It will be a special memory that I was able to help on the frontlines, trying to fight back against the virus. It'll be a memorable moment in time that will impact me for the rest of my life.

Photo: Caleb, second from left, with his family (his dad Richard, brother Joshua, and mom Gina).

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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American Academy of Pediatrics (Copyright © 2021)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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