A mother walking with her child

Facing the Facts

A Mother Weighs the Evidence in Deciding to Enroll Her Toddler in a COVID Vaccination Trial

The clock says 11:30 p.m.

I have only been asleep two hours, but I am suddenly wide awake – and it’s more than the snoring of my child coming through the baby monitor that has my brain energized. It’s the thought that in a few hours I will take my 2-year-old, the most precious thing I have in the world, to a research facility to be part of the Moderna COVID vaccine trial.

I open my emails and scan to find the electronic consent form sent to me days earlier. I know what’s in the 32 pages already – child will receive a quarter of an adult dose, common reactions include rash, soreness and fever, etc. Then there is the section on rare reactions. Myocarditis and pericarditis – heart inflammation – is mostly seen in preteen and teenage boys. I know that it’s very rare and that every case seen so far has resolved itself naturally, but all that goes out the window when I think of my child and his safety.

Right about the time my breathing is picking up, I stop and close my eyes. I believe in science, I have been vaccinated – eight months pregnant, no less, with our infant – my husband is vaccinated, and the risks of COVID are greater than the vaccine. It’s funny to say, but repeating the facts I know about the vaccine in my head comforts me.

It feels like the blink of an eye between lying in bed repeating those facts to myself and opening the clinic doors and signing in. “We are here for the Moderna trial,” I say, trying to balance my purse, diaper bag and a 2-year-old who insisted on being carried.

Back in the room, a research coordinator comes in and introduces herself. She will be my partner in this and oversee my son’s participation the trial. She’s patient with me and I am grateful. I ask a few questions and confirm I have read the consent form. I leave out that I have read it about a hundred times.

Physical exam, nasal swab, blood draw – and then the big moment. She goes over the order and what to expect. Her delivery is comforting, and even though she tells me she doesn’t have kids, it’s clear she cares deeply about children and the children in this trial.

“One hundred and fourteen,” she tells me. That’s his number – my sweet, Paw Patrol-loving little boy will be identified as this number for the next 394 days, the length of the trial.

UNM Health Sciences is only one of 88 sites selected to conduct these trials in children. They have already had a successful cohort in kids 5-11 before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use a few weeks ago. Children 6 months to 5 years are next – and that’s how we ended up here today. As an employee of UNM I have been excited for this trial, but as a mother it’s scary.

The shot is quick: a few tears and then he is fine, going right back to watching his tablet and playing. There is a 3-out-of-4 chance the syringe contained the Moderna vaccine, with the placebo being just saline solution. We won’t know for more than a year, but I will be on the lookout over the next few days for the telltale signs he got the real deal.

This overwhelming sense of relief comes over me. I know I did the right thing for my child. I consulted his pediatrician and trusted her advice. I also know that our hospitals are full and everyone doing their part to get vaccinated and reduce the spread and mutation of COVID is critical.

As I tuck him into bed, I tell him the same thing he hears every night: “Mommy and Daddy love you so much.” For some reason tonight it sounds deeper. I want him to know that we took every step possible to protect him during this global pandemic – even when it was scary and controversial to do so.

So, from one mother to any parent out there, talk to a doctor you trust, try to avoid misinformation on social media or the internet, and make the decision that’s best for your child.

Remember, your parents didn’t have to raise kids in a global pandemic. You are doing a great job, so be kind to yourself. We all love our kids and want the best for them. For me, the best is the COVID-19 vaccine.

The author is not revealing her name to protect the identity of her child. She is an employee of The University of New Mexico. All opinions in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent UNM.

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