I'm an immunologist. Here's why I enrolled my baby and toddler in Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine trial.

·4 min read
In this photo a child was getting a vaccination on February 19, 2021
A child getting vaccinated. Ute Grabowsky/Getty Images
  • Sonali Bracken, MD, PhD is a physician in the Division of Rheumatology and Immunology at Duke University Medical Center.

  • She recently enrolled her children in the trial for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.

  • Here's her story, as told to Jamie Orsini.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

In August, my husband and I enrolled our children in the Pfizer clinical trial for the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine. The most pressing issue we face right now is getting kids vaccinated.

I'm a rheumatologist and PhD-trained immunologist at Duke University School of Medicine, where I see patients and do research. I'm also a mom of a three-year-old son and a nine-month-old daughter.

I've been a vaccine enthusiast long before COVID19 struck the world. As a doctor, there are not many therapies I can offer my patients that prevent diseases before they occur the way that vaccines do.

When I learned that Duke is one of the sites facilitating the Pfizer study for younger kids, I signed up my children. They were able to get their first dose of the vaccine or placebo one week later, on August 10. They got their second dose on August 30.

Before we arrived, we explained the process to our toddler. I told him that he had the opportunity to help other children. It touched my heart when he told us that "he wanted to be brave for all the kids". Not only was he brave, but he also cheered on his baby sister through the entire appointment

The trial logistics were straightforward

To qualify for the trial, we answered lots of questions to make sure we met their inclusion and exclusion criteria and consulted with a medical provider. Each child was also asked to give a blood sample. Every step of the way, the care team was transparent about what would happen.

The actual vaccine administration was just like any other appointment. We stayed for half an hour afterward to wait for possible side effects, just as an adult getting the COVID-19 vaccine would.

As part of the trial, we are providing the research team with regular follow up data. For seven days after getting each dose, we recorded the kids' temperatures and any symptoms they had. We have committed to completing weekly symptom diaries and periodic check-ups for the next 26 months. We are blinded as to whether the kids got the vaccine or placebo but neither has had any reactions thus far.

To me, vaccination is the only option when it comes to COVID-19

As a scientist and a doctor, I had no qualms about enrolling my kids in this trial. I trust vaccines and the science behind their development. Not vaccinating my children at first opportunity was a gamble my husband and I were not willing to take.

People often forget that coronavirus vaccines and mRNA vaccines have been topics of research long before this pandemic began. This is a major reason we were prepared to produce vaccines so quickly.

I have been asked time and again whether it is scary to enroll my young children in a clinical trial. In my mind, any theoretical risk of my kids getting a vaccine that hundreds of millions of people have already safely gotten is far less concerning than the real risk of them contracting COVID-19 or spreading the disease to others.

Unfortunately, misinformation about COVID-19 and the vaccines is all around us. It can be hard to sort out misinformation from the truth. That's why it's so important to defer to the data showing us how safe and effective these vaccines are.

Enrolling one's children in a clinical trial is a personal choice. I understand that many will want to wait until the vaccines have been granted FDA authorization before they sign their children up for the shots. I hope that once this day comes, these families will take comfort from the experiences of all the children enrolled in these trials. I ask that they trust the recommendations of the experts who have independently reviewed the data and deemed these vaccines safe and effective.

I expect that my children will read about this historic time in their school textbooks. When this day comes, I hope they will take pride in the fact that they contributed to the science that helped end this pandemic. I'm already so proud of them.

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