Desperate for more protection from COVID and its Delta variant, some Iowa parents are enrolling their children in vaccine trials in the hopes they’ll be vaccinated as soon as possible.
And they’re relieved they did it.
“It feels great,” said Leng Vong Reiff of Clive, whose two sons went through a Pfizer trial. “There’s that added peace of mind for us that if we do get this Delta variant that we have that extra protection.”
Major vaccine manufacturers—Pfizer and Moderna—have been conducting pediatric trials for months, and Pfizer is expected to have results for the 5-11 age group sometime in September. From there, reports say, Pfizer vaccinations for children could begin as early as October.
COVID vaccines have been approved for children aged 12 to 15 on an emergency basis, and the Pfizer vaccine has full approval for people 16 and older. The other COVID vaccines still have emergency authorization.
Vong Reiff’s sons, who are ages 5 and 9, were in a phase one Pfizer trial hosted four hours away in Hastings, Nebraska, where placebos weren’t used and instead dosage levels were tested. Both are now fully vaccinated.
“I did talk to their pediatrician before having them start the trial just to make sure it was something that she thought would be OK for them to do,” Von Reiff said. “And their pediatrician wanted them in there. She said, ‘absolutely.’”
The pediatrician told them getting the vaccine outweighed any chance of rare side effects like blood clots.
“I trust the pediatrician because she knows their history and all that,” Vong Reiff said. “It took her a couple of days to give me a call back because she really wanted to look into their charts and just make sure that this was something that they could continue with. When she called me back to say she wants them to go through with it, I trusted her medical advice.”
Once they started in the early summer, the boys had to check their temperatures daily, look for rashes, and report whether they felt fatigued or nauseous. Vong Reiff said they’re proud to be part of the vaccine trials.
“They actually have to consent on their own,” she said. “We were issued a huge packet with information, and Pfizer actually had it drawn out like a cartoon just kind of letting the kids know what they were getting into because we, as parents, want them to be part of the trial, but they are the ones who have to consent.”
Nicole Riggs of West Des Moines’ oldest child, Graham, is currently enrolled in a Moderna trial. She and her husband made the decision because they wanted to get him vaccinated as soon as possible.
“We were really comfortable with things like what the risks were,” she said. “We talked with his pediatrician as well and not only was he totally OK with it, he was excited for Graham to participate.”
The vaccine trial is run out of Omaha by a clinic that was part of adult trials last year. Riggs explained the process of signing up and eventually going in for Graham’s first two appointments where he got the first dose. His next appointment is four weeks later on Sept. 8. Riggs said only 25% of study participants received a placebo, and the other 75% received different doses of the vaccine.
“There’s a bunch of monitoring that you have to do for them on whether they have side effects,” Riggs said.
So far, there hasn’t been anything concerning or any sign of whether Graham was part of the 75%.
Parents in this trial have to monitor temperature and other symptoms like Vong Reiff did.
Vaccine manufacturers have been conducting pediatric trials since late spring, and the time it’s taking can mostly be chalked up to safety precautions and the amount of data scientists must process.
In July, the FDA told Modern and Pfzier-BioNTech to expand the sizes of their vaccine trials to detect rare side effects like blood clots and heart conditions. With more people enrolled, the likelihood of detecting rare effects increases.
The trial lasts longer than it takes to get both doses in order to continue monitoring for potential side effects to ensure the vaccines are as safe as possible for children.
“They’ll follow him for about a year and they’ll be obviously looking for long-term side effects,” Riggs said.
When the vaccines are approved, she said she and her husband will find out whether their son actually received the vaccine. If not, he’ll be signed up for his first dose immediately. That goes for all children.
But their vaccination status is only one reason for participating. Both Riggs and Vong Reiff said they wanted to contribute to the research effort.
“I’m very grateful that we’re able to participate in the vaccine study, that we have the resources to take them,” Riggs said. “I also hope that we’re using that privilege to help further the good cause for everybody.”
Vong Reiff said her sons are asked at every appointment whether they want to continue.
“Someone’s kids have to go through the trial to give all other kids access,” she said. “I do not push my boys to make a decision. They have to consent on their own and they have.”
by Nikoel Hytrek