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Boy, 12, in COVID-19 vaccine trial shares his experience: 'It feels pretty cool'

Just like adults, the adolescents receive two injections in the upper arm — one month apart.
Illustration of kid getting a vaccine inside a calendar
TODAY Illustration / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

As adults wait for their turn to get a COVID-19 vaccine, trials are underway to clear the way for kids and teens to get it, too.

No version of the shot has yet been authorized for people under 16, but more than 3 million children in the U.S. have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the coronavirus crisis, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association reported.

The true number may be higher because the illness is often mild in kids and may go undetected. But COVID-19 can still be potentially serious for children, with some young patients getting sick and dying. Asymptomatic kids can still spread the virus to others.

That’s why Moderna is conducting a study for adolescents 12 to 17 years old, and Pfizer has a trial for kids ages 12 to 15. Younger age groups could soon follow.

Henry Turcotte, 12, is taking part in the Moderna study. The sixth grader received his first shot on Feb. 3, though he and his family don’t know if it was the real thing or a placebo. There is a 67% chance of receiving the vaccine.

“It feels pretty cool. It’s nice knowing that I have the vaccine, hopefully, and I'm like helping out society,” Henry, who lives in Boise, Idaho, told TODAY.

“I'm really proud of him,” Diana Lachiondo, his mom, added. “We're proud to do our part and hopefully it'll give parents some peace of mind when these vaccines hopefully become available for kids.”

Lachiondo heard about the vaccine study on the news and mentioned it to Henry when she found out there was a trial location in their area. Her husband and sister are doctors, so the family talked it through with the boy and — reassured by the safety and success rate in older people — decided to allow him to sign up.

“I didn't necessarily have concerns given what we're seeing in adults. I think the big question is: What’s the efficacy going to be? Not that it's (not) safe, but how well is it actually going to work?” Lachiondo said.

The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine trial for adolescents includes 3,000 kids. The company was reportedly struggling to find enough participants at first, but it announced Thursday that the study is now fully enrolled.

Just like adults, the adolescents receive two injections in the upper arm — one month apart. The dosage is the same as for older people. The kids are randomly assigned to get either the vaccine or a placebo.

It took about two weeks to be accepted into the trial, Lachiondo said. Henry met the criteria, including being in good health and never testing positive for COVID-19. Two of his friends are taking part, too.

Since Henry is underage, his mom went through the process of informed consent, giving permission for him to participate, while the boy went through informed assent, with doctors asking lots of questions to make sure he wanted to participate.

As the first appointment approached earlier this month, Henry said he was a little nervous.

“The anticipation was the scariest part,” he recalled. “But the shot itself did not hurt.”

That visit lasted more than three hours and also included a blood draw and nasal swab to test for COVID-19. The day after Henry received the first shot, he had a headache, was a little tired and felt a bit sore, “but it was not too bad,” he said.

“I think it might be the real thing, just because of all the side effects I had after it, and they're kind of similar to the ones adults had, so I'm hoping I got the real thing,” Henry noted.

“I'm also really hopeful he actually got the shot. I don't know that I've ever cheered so much for side effects,” his mom added.

Henry records any symptoms in an electronic diary. Otherwise, he goes on with life just as before. Taking part in the study hasn’t interfered with any of his activities, the sixth grader said.

His second shot is scheduled for March 3. He’ll get three more blood draws and will be monitored until the spring of 2022. Overall, the trial includes six visits to the study clinic and two visits by phone or video with the study doctor. The family is compensated for taking part.

The hope is to have peace of mind and resume a more normal life in the coming months.

“This has been a tough year and we have followed protocols pretty closely, so we're really looking forward to him being able to play sports and see friends and just have a more normal summer,” Lachiondo said.