Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.
Most teenagers are not yet eligible to receive Covid-19 vaccines. But a few have volunteered to take part in clinical trials that assess the efficacy and safety of these vaccines for children ages 12 through 17.
Would you participate in one of these trials? If so, what would motivate you? Possible immunity? Financial compensation? Or just the opportunity to help science or be a part of history? If not, why would you be reluctant?
In “To Get Their Lives Back, Teens Volunteer for Vaccine Trials,” Jan Hoffman explains why some teenagers have chosen to enroll:
To get out of ninth-grade science period one recent Friday, the King twins had an excuse that is so very 2021.
Alexandra and Isabelle, 14, had to miss class — including a test — because they were participating in an actual science experiment: a clinical trial of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine to evaluate whether the shot is effective and safe in children ages 12 through 17.
“In science we’re learning about, like, genetics and stuff like that,” said Alexandra during the monitoring period after they’d gotten their shots at a Houston clinic. “So maybe the teacher will say, ‘Oh, you really shouldn’t have to take the test, because you’re contributing to science already.’”
Teenagers contract the novel coronavirus almost twice as often as younger children but vaccines authorized in the United States are mostly for adults — Moderna’s for 18 and older, Pfizer’s for 16 and up. While teenagers don’t become severely ill from the virus as often as adults, research suggests that because they are often asymptomatic and casual about social distancing, they can be efficient spreaders — to one another as well as to adults like parents, grandparents and teachers. Although vaccinating educators will be an important factor in keeping schools open, vaccinating students will also be a key element.
Bottom line: If widespread immunity to the coronavirus is to be achieved, adolescents are critical links. They need a Covid vaccine that works for them.
The article continues:
Sam, 12, who entered the Pfizer trial at Cincinnati Children’s hospital, said he wanted to participate “because it would be helping science and beat the pandemic. And it was my way of saying thank you to the frontline workers who are keeping us healthy.”
His sister, Audrey, 14, who is also in the study, said, “I thought this would be a really good story I could tell my children and grandchildren — that I tried to help create the vaccine.”
“And I also thought it is important to have people of different ages and races represented,” added Audrey, who, like her brother, is Asian. (Their mother, Rachel, a nurse researcher who volunteered for a vaccine trial, asked that their last names be withheld for privacy reasons.)
Overall, the teen trials may be less diverse, because results from adult trials showed no discernible difference in outcome by race. And because the adult trials were so successful, up to two-thirds of teenagers may be offered the actual vaccine rather than a placebo.
Pfizer, whose trial is fully enrolled, expects results from its trials for children ages 12 through 15 in the first quarter of this year, which it will then submit to the Food and Drug Administration for review. Moderna is still recruiting for its adolescent trials, with data anticipated sometime this summer. Other companies expect to start adolescent trials soon. Shortly after, researchers will open trials for children as young as 5, most likely with more modest doses.
Students, read the entire article, then tell us:
Would you volunteer for a clinical trial of a Covid-19 vaccine? Why did the young people quoted in the article choose to participate in the trials? What did you think of their reasoning?
What do you see as the benefits of enrolling in such a trial? What are the possible downsides? Would you have any fears? Overall, do you think the upsides outweigh the downsides?
How important do you think it is that a Covid-19 vaccine is quickly evaluated and distributed among teenagers? Why do you think that teenagers are more “difficult to wrangle” than adults in these trials? How could researchers make it easier for teenagers find out about the trials and participate in them?
What are the ethical considerations of enrolling participants in a clinical trial at any age? Are these considerations different when the participants are teenagers, or even younger? If you were to enroll in a trial of a Covid-19 vaccine, do you think you would be able to have a thorough enough understanding of the potential risks?
The author writes that teen trials may be less racially diverse than trials of adults, despite higher rates of coronavirus cases and deaths among Black and Latino people. Do you think that this is a problem? Why or why not? If so, how do you think the trials should be altered?
When vaccines are eventually approved by the F.D.A. and available for teenagers, will you get one? Why or why not?