Kids participating in COVID-19 vaccine trials offer hope to families

Coronavirus Update New Jersey
NEW JERSEY (WABC) -- Rachel and Shawn Hulfish are sibling heroes in the world of science. They're participating in the Moderna vaccine trials for kids.

"Getting the Moderna vaccines up and running for the pediatric population was really important for our family," mom Dr. Erin Hulfish said. "And feeling like we could make a difference."

She works as a pediatric intensive care doctor as Stony Brook University Hospital -- where the Moderna trials are taking place -- so the fight against COVID is personal for her.

"I knew my son was going to be starting kindergarten this year," she said. "I wanted him to be as safe as possible going into the school systems and to be able to make sure we did something as a family to help other families."

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At Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, they're holding pediatric trials for the Pfizer vaccine.

"It's looking to see if it produces enough antibodies, similar to adults and older kids, that they would be protected," Dr. Sunanda Gaur said.

She is overseeing the blind trial, in which one-third of the participants get a placebo, while two-thirds receive the vaccine.

"Parents have been very interested," she said. "We've been pleasantly surprised by all the people who wanted to volunteer for the participate."

She said early results seem promising with few side effects.

"The vaccine seems to be not having any side effects, barely," she said. "Just swelling in the arm, a little fever, very mild symptoms."

The Pfizer vaccine could be approved for emergency use in children ages 5 through 11 by Halloween, which would be a real treat for families with young school age children who've only been able to rely on masks for protection.

"Knowing there was a two-third chance of them having the vaccine going into the school year, I felt like It was a layer of protection there that they wouldn't otherwise had had," dad Zachary Wagman said.

All three of his and Jenna Wagman's children are participating in the Pfizer trials at Rutgers.

"Anything we can do to make our kids safer and our neighbors safe makes sense to do," Jenna Wagman said.

While young Cooper remembers the jab -- and that it hurt -- he also knows he was courageous.

"Superheroes are a thing, and I agree they're superheroes," Jenna Wagman said. "I think they're brave. They're doing something all of their friends will talk about doing. They think it's really cool."

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But not all parents want their kids to roll up their sleeves. Eleven-year-old Britany Avilas says she wants the vaccine as soon as possible, but her mother is reluctant.

"She's going to wait a few months and see if kids get sick from the vaccine," Avilas said.

Dr. Gaur hopes parents take comfort in the science.

"This is probably one of the most studied vaccines out there," she said. "So rest easy."

At 2 and 5 years old, the Hulfish kids may not understand the importance of getting vaccinated, but they do know they're getting to spend a whole lot more time with their grandparents.

"This is giving my kids a really good example of what it means to be a really good citizen and to help each other and our community and further science," Dr. Hulfish said.

The believe their actions will ultimately save lives, as well as strengthen connections that COVID has long disrupted.

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