Immunizing teenagers is a critical part of slowing the pandemic and reaching herd immunity. But enrolling them in clinical trials poses challenges that are very different than wrangling adults.
In Houston, Isabelle King, 14, got her second shot from Jallesse Flores during a Moderna vaccine trial this month, as her twin sister, Alexandra, looked on.Credit…Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times
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.
But teenagers are harder than adults to enroll and keep in clinical trials. They are difficult to wrangle and not so great with compliance, which includes keeping a symptom diary and keeping appointments, as many as six a year, that include blood draws (for some, an instant deal breaker).
To reach students, some researchers have tapped school connections, local pediatricians and social media campaigns. While waiting for appointments in the vaccine research clinics,