Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought a myriad of changes to everyday life, from online school to our smiles being covered by masks. Like everyone, I miss pre-pandemic life. I miss going to school, as before, hugging my grandparents, and visiting cousins in distant states. I have looked forward to an escape from the pandemic through the long-awaited vaccine.
After a friend of my mother’s reached out with an article about UMass Medical Center becoming a site for Moderna’s teen COVID-19 vaccine trial, I was eager to join. My mother asked if my sister Esme, 12, and I were interested in participating. For me, the answer was simple.
Since last March, I have looked forward to regaining my childhood, and I knew that the vaccine was a step toward doing so. My parents, both physicians, as well as my grandparents safely received their COVID vaccines. A few experienced the common side effects of a sore arm, headache, and fatigue, but mostly I noticed their immense relief. The weight of worry of potentially becoming ill or transmitting this deadly virus to family, to patients, and to everyone around them started to lift as new research suggests the vaccines may prevent transmission too.
Ultimately, my parents made it clear that the choice to participate in the trial was mine. The research team required my sister and I read the trial materials carefully. Parental informed consent was needed, but we also needed to give our signed assent. A prerequisite of the trial was that we understood this was a research study, that we might receive the actual COVID-19 vaccine or a placebo, and that there would be nasal swabs, blood tests, as well as e-diaries to record any side effects we might have. We were also told that the trial was a long process, lasting 13 months.
Millions of adults have safely received COVID vaccines; as a healthy teen, I felt safe entering this trial. My mother asked my sister and me, “Would you still want to join with the possibility of receiving only the placebo? Is it worth it?” We answered “yes” without hesitation. The vaccine trial was beyond only us. We wanted to be a part of advancing science, and we wanted to help make the vaccine available to our friends. Most of all, we wanted all kids to be given back their childhoods.
So far, we have each received our two trial doses. We felt soreness in our arms, and my sister developed a large rash at the vaccine site a week after her first shot, which faded within two days. My family and I hope this means she may have gotten the real thing. As someone who is a little afraid of needles, I was comforted with snacks and funny stories shared by the kind nurses. We’ll return to UMass in one month for further tests.
Family, friends, and even strangers have thanked my sister and me for volunteering in this study and have applauded my parents for allowing it. Some have called us heroes. However, some have decried my parents for allowing their children to enroll in a trial. Others are concerned that the vaccine will affect our ability to have our own children in the future. As an OB/GYN, my mother understands well the research that has disproved the social-media concerns about fertility and vaccines.
We feel lucky to be part of this important study that will help determine whether the vaccine works well in kids. We are grateful to the scientists who have made this vaccine possible and to the trial volunteers. With kids making up a quarter of our society, and continuing to be a potential reservoir of coronavirus, vaccinating children can help the world reach much-needed herd immunity. For me, the chance to hug my grandparents and friends again will make it all worth it.
Zoe Campbell, 15, is in ninth grade and lives in Brookline.