Jennifer Spengler is a health and wellness writer for Sharp Health News and a marketing specialist with Sharp HealthCare.
Evie is a 12-year-old seventh grader. She loves soccer, Pokémon and Marvel movies. She has two dogs, two cats and two sisters. She is also my daughter and one of approximately 2,000 kids age 12 to 15 enrolled in Pfizer’s U.S. COVID-19 vaccine trial.
While I write this article with trepidation — I know how strongly some feel about vaccinations — I also write it with pride because the choice to participate in the trial was entirely Evie’s. And if you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting my youngest daughter, you know she has an independent spirit not easily quashed when she sets her mind to doing something.
What’s more, when we discussed how some people might react negatively to her participation in the vaccine trial, Evie seemed surprised. “Why would anyone be against me wanting to help end the pandemic?” she asked. It’s a question I still struggle to answer.
A front-row seat to the front line
As a health care writer, I have been fortunate to have a front-row seat to the amazing work being performed by our front-line health care workers. I greatly admire and appreciate the work my colleagues do each and every day to treat the most severely ill individuals. I have also felt somewhat inadequate in my inability to assist them beyond sharing their stories.
So as the pandemic surged and hospital ICU numbers grew, I felt a strong desire to do more to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Strictly following preventive measures was a first step. I also decided to register to participate in a COVID-19 vaccine trial.
Unfortunately, by the time I finally spoke to a trial representative, I was told they no longer needed adults for their trials. They were focusing on enrolling kids age 12 to 15 in a new trial to ensure a safe and effective vaccine would be available for children.
I shared my disappointment with my family and resigned myself to being satisfied with my contributions of writing, mask-wearing, hand-washing and physical distancing. Evie, however, was thrilled to hear that she was now eligible for the trial.
Motivated by a love for science — and soccer
“I like science,” Evie says. “And I liked the idea that I could help people understand that the vaccine is safe for kids and help to get everything back to normal.”
For Evie, normal means going to school, playing soccer several times each week, riding bikes in the neighborhood, having sleepovers, spending time with her grandparents, and video game challenges with friends all playing from the same couch. Each and every one of these normal activities was either drastically impacted or canceled due to the pandemic. And she wanted to do something about it — for herself and others.
What’s more, I was keenly aware of the statistics surrounding COVID-19 in children. While most kids tend to experience only mild illness or infection without symptoms, children are capable of spreading the virus, and some children can develop severe illness or endure long-term health consequences from infection.
Evie’s father and I felt comfortable allowing her to participate. We believe in the science and trust the experts, including my colleagues, who encourage vaccination for everyone once they are eligible. And knowing we would happily roll up our own sleeves for a vaccine deemed safe and effective by the FDA, we felt we couldn’t deny her the same opportunity.
Vaccine or placebo — either is OK
However, it was not guaranteed Evie would receive the actual vaccine if she participated in the trial. There was a 50-50 chance she might receive a placebo, something that Evie didn’t seem to mind.
“I was excited when I went in for my first trial appointment,” she says. “I didn’t really care whether I got the vaccine or the placebo. I knew either way that it would still help.”
Evie received her first dose — of either vaccine or placebo — on Dec. 15, 2020. On that day, they also drew blood and explained the process of tracking any reactions she might have or signs of illness thereafter. We returned to the trial site 3 weeks later for a second dose, and she continues to monitor herself and send in biweekly, self-administered COVID-19 tests — all part of her 2-year commitment to the trial.
So far, so good — all of her tests have come back negative and her reaction to the two doses was minimal. However, she did have a headache, had a hard time keeping her eyes open during class and asked to skip soccer practice the day after her second dose — unusual behavior for a girl who normally has the energy of Tigger, Winnie the Pooh’s beloved and highly spirited sidekick.
While we hoped the reaction meant she had received the real deal, we recognize that might not be the case. We’re prepared to wait until all children her age can be vaccinated to have that sense of security and normalcy so many of us crave. Until then, we’ll continue to practice COVID-19 safety precautions and remain incredibly proud of her for stepping up, especially when some adults can’t even manage to wear a mask in public.
Ready to move beyond the pandemic
Evie, less bothered by what others do — or don’t do — and more focused on the role she is playing, looks forward to what vaccination for all ages might mean. She, like so many other kids her age, just wants to be able to move on from all things COVID-19 and the related restrictions and disappointments.
“I hope that we learn that the vaccine is safe for kids and that more people can get vaccinated,” Evie says. “I would definitely encourage people to get the vaccine whenever given the chance. It helps to stop the spread of COVID and hopefully will end the pandemic soon.”
Learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine and how you can schedule an appointment when you are eligible to receive it.