RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – As COVID-19 vaccines gradually make their way into the community, one group isn’t even on the list to get the shot — children.
Pfizer’s vaccine is currently authorized for people 16 years and older. Moderna’s is for ages 18 and older, but researchers at Duke and other hospitals across the country are now studying the shots in younger populations.
Seventh-grader Caleb Chung is making a pretty significant contribution to science. He is taking part in a trial at Duke, testing Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for ages 12-15.
“We sort of jumped at the opportunity,” said his mom, Gina Chung. She and her husband, Dr. Richard Chung, a pediatrician, said they looked at vaccine data in adults before talking to Caleb about the trial.
“Kids are not the same as adults, so we can’t really assume which is why we do the trials, but at least, as a physician, I felt positive about at least that initial data,” Dr. Chung said.
According to Dr. Emmanuel “Chip” Walter, the principal investigator of the trial at Duke, the younger trial participants receive the same dose of the vaccine as adults and also receive two shots.
Caleb had some mild pain after his first dose. His mom said he had more side effects following the second dose.
“He recently got his second shot the other week and definitely felt a lot more symptoms,” she said. “Feeling really weak had a little bit of a low-grade [fever], so that indicated to us that perhaps he, indeed, gotten the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Caleb is monitored with COVID-19 tests and will have follow-up appointments for at least two years.
The family does not know for sure whether he got the real vaccine or a placebo.
“The point of participating was not necessarily to get a vaccine in that way, but really to make sure that the study gets done so all of his friends eventually can get the vaccine, as well,” said Richard Chung.
He said vaccinating children will eventually play an important role in ending the pandemic.
“In terms of really getting to the other side of this, in achieving herd immunity and getting to the point where transmission in the community is low enough that we’re no longer technically in a pandemic, I think kids are crucial to that for sure,” he said. “Kids are part of most households, and as they get back to school and navigate in other spaces, they are a key part of this picture.”
Trials must first show the shot is safe and effective in children and teenagers. Duke researchers plan to study the vaccine in children younger than 12 years old in the future.
After nearly a year of missing school and his friends, Caleb and his family hope his participation in the trial will play a part in getting the world back to normal. It’s a way for a 12-year-old “to do something specific to push back against the pandemic,” his dad said.
“At that age, to have the opportunity, I think it’s really great.”