Meet the kids taking part in the COVID vaccine trial for children

·6-min read
Phoebe Howard, 13, after having her vaccine (L), Bertie Wood, 12, with mum Laura Wood (R) (SWNS)
Phoebe Howard, 13, after having her vaccine (L), Bertie Wood, 12, with mum Laura Wood (R) (SWNS)

A group of volunteers aged as young as 12 have become the first children to have the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine as part of a UK trial.

The young volunteers received a dose of the vaccine last week as part of a national trial to test its immune response in children.

In total it will be given to 260 children in the next few weeks, with the hope the jab will produce a strong immune response to the virus.

Bertie Wood, 12, from Wallingford, Oxon, was one of the first to have the jab after persuading his parents to let him take part when he overheard them talking about the trial in the kitchen.

He said the most exciting part of the trial was getting to try out his signature for the first time on the consent forms.

Bertie had his first jab last week and is due his second in three months time.

"I just thought it would be nice to do my bit for science," he says.

"I have been watching more science-y programmes just to see more stuff about it.

"I'm not that interested in science but I definitely am interested in doing my part."

Read more: Returning to school after lockdown: How to help with anxiety, according to a psychologist

Bertie's mum Laura Wood, 42, who works in digital marketing, is particularly proud that Bertie can list the ingredients that make up the vaccine.

"A friend of mine told me about the trial and I was talking about it to my husband and [Bertie] heard and said 'I want to do that'," she explains.

"My daughter is nine and she's also requested to be put forward, but they're doing the older age group first.

"I was over the moon they both wanted to do something."

Vaccine volunteer Bertie Wood with his mum Laura Wood. (SWNS)
Vaccine volunteer Bertie Wood with his mum Laura Wood. (SWNS)

Despite being proud her children wanted to take part, Laura admits she took some persuading to allow them to volunteer.

"They had to convince me," she explains.

"It was the fear of the unknown, but as as soon as I had read more about it my mind was put at ease."

The four study sites for the trial are The University of Oxford, St George's University Hospital, in London, University Hospital Southampton and Bristol Royal Hospital for Children.

Read more: Telling children fibs could make them more anxious in later life, study suggests.

While 260 children will get the vaccine, 40 others will receive a control meningitis vaccine.

"The sense that 15 million people had already been vaccinated, 25,000 adults had been through a trial and there were no safety concerns and the control vaccine was Meningitis B, which neither child had been given, it seemed like like win-win for them," Laura continues.

"My husband was actually on the Novavax trial and so I think the children had seen what he was doing and wanted to do it too.

"We've reached that point now where if anyone can do anything to bring this to an end we'll want to do it."

Watch: How vaccine rollout will fit into roadmap out of lockdown.

Fearing a backlash, the mum-of-two was initially tentative about telling friends and posting details about Bertie's vaccine on social media.

"I am very active on social media and usually publish every little detail of my life and in this case I haven't.

"I've just been looking at Twitter and the kind of negative reactions from certain sections of society has taken me aback a little bit so I've been a bit nervous about going public.

"But then, seeing some of the positive reactions, I've realised that why shouldn't I be proud of the fact that the children want to do something?

"Since he's had the vaccine, I've tentatively started telling my friends and actually, within my circle, people have been overwhelmingly positive."

The participants are all willing volunteers who live near one of the four test centres, and started receiving their first doses on 16 February.

Read more: I felt guilty for having the coronavirus vaccine, now I understand why I need it

Phoebe Howard with her mother Dr Emily Lawson. (SWNS)
Phoebe Howard with her mother Dr Emily Lawson. (SWNS)

Phoebe Howard, 13, also got her first dose last week at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford.

She was particularly impressed by the hot chocolate on offer at the test centre.

"I just felt as a younger person, I don't really get my chance to do what everyone else is doing to help everyone else, so I thought it was a great opportunity to do that little bit," she says.

"The doctors and nurse were all really nice and it was cool. We had to watch a video to start with and we had a talk about side effects and stuff."

Phoebe had some blood taken to measure for antibodies, and has to write a daily e-diary to report any side effects.

"It's really cool," she continues. "I think it's kind of fun to be part of something that is helping everyone out.

"Obviously I was a bit nervous but everyone there is really nice.

"When you have to wait for half an hour after the injection in case you see any immediate side effects I asked if I could take a picture and they let me, and they had hot chocolate."

Read more: Coronavirus vaccines are safe

Phoebe is due to receive her second dose on 20 March.

Her mother, Dr Emily Lawson, is the chief commercial officer at NHS England and responsible for vaccine deployment, but said she didn't pressure Phoebe to take part.

"I said 'Would you be interested?' And she said 'Yeah, yeah, ok' - there was no conversation," Dr Lawson explains.

"She'd been finding it difficult that I'm not around all the time.

"I'd been away all week, and I didn't expect much resistance as we talk about science a lot in the day.

"She knows what I'm spending my time on and how I've been full time on the vaccine programme so she's heard a lot about it."

Read more: Coronavirus vaccines have not been rushed

Having posted a photo of her daughter getting the vaccine on Twitter, Dr Lawson says she received a couple of negative tweets.

"I think there are about four or five out of the 100 comments that were negative - some were politely negative and a couple I blocked and reported as they told me to watch some terrible bit of antivax propaganda," she explains.

"I spend a lot of time trying to combat misinformation and I decided to post both because I'm so proud of Phoebe and because it's important to show science will win.

"The worst thing that's going to happen is she doesn't get the immunity.

"It's part of supporting science and supporting the country.

"I'm obviously really proud of my daughter and that the UK's got great scientists and robust clinical trials which will not only help in this country but globally."

Scientists hope they will observe a similar immune response in children to that of adult recipients, and that this could therefore help reduce the spread of the virus.

Additional reporting SWNS.

Watch: Coronavirus vaccine numbers in the UK close to 18 million.

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