SOUTH EUCLID, Ohio — Much of the population is still not approved to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, including those under 18 years old.
For the past several months, Dr. Shelly David Senders of Senders Pediatrics in South Euclid has worked with Pfizer as one of about 20 pediatricians offices nationwide that are part of a COVID-19 vaccine study among those ages 12-15.
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“We actually enrolled the first adolescent in a COVID vaccine trial in the country in little old Cleveland,” he said. “We’ve been involved in over 200 clinical trials, but this one feels different. This one is an opportunity to really make a difference.”
Senders said that study, involving 173 adolescents, is about two-thirds done.
“I call it the Snapchat vaccine,” he said. “Essentially, what it does is it's a bullhorn. It says ‘Hey, make antibodies to the COVID virus.’ And then like Snapchat, it actually is completely destroyed, and within three days, there’s no residue of the vaccine in your body.”
Some participants received the vaccine while others were administered a placebo.
“We expect the information and data will be available over the next 4-6 weeks, then it will be up to the FDA if that age group of 12 on up will be able to access the vaccine,” Senders said.
Senders expects to begin a new study with Pfizer involving 5-11-year-old volunteers this summer.
“It’s all blinded, so we don’t know who got the vaccine and who didn’t,” he explained. “That will have to be studied when they break the code. We actually have not seen a lot of side effects in any of our patients.”
Among those patients in the recent study is 15-year-old Ruth Wilson.
The sophomore at Shaker Heights High School told News 5 it didn’t take her long to decide to enroll when she heard about the opportunity.
“I just knew it was the right thing to do,” she said. “In a time when a lot of us feel helpless and there’s not a lot we can do to get past the pandemic, I think it seems like a small but important way to contribute to the vaccine.”
Her father, Todd Wilson, said, “Everything you read is that teenagers can be important carriers and transmitters of the virus, so we knew how essential this whole project was, and it was really an honor to be a part of it. Seems like a crucial endeavor, and Ruth is a little cog in that very important wheel.”
Wilson recounted the large stack of reading material they received when they first approached the idea of Ruth enrolling in the study.
“There was nothing to say no about, and as Ruth says, she was gung-ho from the beginning,” he added.
“Being part of this study was a nice way to show confidence in the vaccine,” Ruth added.
People under 18 years old make up about 22.1% of Ohio’s population, according to the latest census.
That number plays a pivotal role in reaching herd immunity, according to experts, who say 80-85% of a population needs to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity.
“Adolescents are a key part of herd immunity,” Senders said. “If we can get to herd immunity through the combination of natural immunity and vaccination, then we can get to the point where we can stop wearing masks and stop having relatives getting hospitalized. We can stop this cycle of illness and death and get back to what we’re designed to do which is be able to live our lives.”
As her study nears an end, Ruth should find out soon whether she received the vaccine or the placebo.
“I’m pretty sure I got the placebo, but you never know,” she laughed.
If she’s right, Senders said the 15-year-old could receive the vaccine around when she turns 16 later in the spring.
“It would be the best birthday present ever,” Wilson said. “Just the small things like being able to hug my grandpa again and see other people would be great.”
If you’re interested in enrolling your child in the COVID-19 vaccine study, you’re asked to contact their office or email firstname.lastname@example.org.