Teen in Cincinnati Children's COVID-19 vaccine trial says it's 'a way to be helpful.' .

Children's Hospital Los Angeles

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Terry DeMio

| Cincinnati Enquirer

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Like any other teenager living through a pandemic, Katelyn Evans, 16, knows the drill: Mask up before leaving home, stay at least 6 feet apart from friends, wash hands a lot, take your temperature frequently.

She and her mom keep a close eye on whether she gets even the slightest of symptoms of COVID-19.

The answer has been no, no, no. Day after day.

What's different from most teens about Katelyn's COVID-19 watch is that she is taking part in a two-year, Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine trial at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. Kateyln was the first adolescent to be injected, on Oct. 14, with either the vaccine or a placebo in the local trial that the FDA approved for kids just two days before.

"They need to do this sort of thing on teenagers," she said from her Green Township home. "I thought it would be a way to be helpful."

Katelyn, her brother, Andrew, and their mom, Laurie Evans, decided to sign up for the trials at Cincinnati Children's in May, just after Cincinnati Children's started its COVID-19 vaccine trial for adults. Andrew is 20, and he'd heard about it first, his sister said. But only Katelyn was asked to take part, and not until October, as part of the kids' study.

The team at Cincinnati Children's has been "very upfront" about every aspect of the trial and every safety risk, said Laurie Evans.

"They explained it really well to us ahead of time," Evans said. They explained it again when they got to the hospital. The risks are minimal, Evans said. And Katelyn has 24-7 access to medical professionals if she or her mom have any questions about her health

"We knew we would be well supported if anything did come up," her mother said.

'The worst part of it was giving blood'

Those who take part in any vaccine trial are closely monitored, said Dr. Robert Frenck, principal investigator of the National Institutes of Health-sponsored Vaccine Treatment and Evaluation Unit and director of the Gamble Vaccine Research Center. He's leading the COVID-19 vaccine trials at Cincinnati Children's.

"For the week after vaccination we have everyone keep a diary of any symptoms they are experiencing," Frenck said. For the COVID-19 vaccine trials, he said, "We also give everyone a list of symptoms that may be associated with COVID. If a participant were to have any of those symptoms, we ask that they contact us so we can talk with them and determine if we need to test them for COVID."

Katelyn has clicked no to every symptom on an app that delivers information to the trial team. No fever, no redness at the injection sites (she's been through the second of two injections), nothing, she said. "The worst part of it was giving blood." That's a prerequisite, to help doctors ensure that prospective participants are OK to take part.

Even before the FDA approved the trial, Frenck was a proponent of expanding the COVID-19 vaccine trial to include children, both to protect kids from the virus and to help protect others. Children are less susceptible to hospitalization for COVID-19, but they still get it, he argued. Also, they may have it without knowing, because some are asymptomatic – and a risk for others.

"My concern is that children will spread the infection to ... parents, grandparents, school teachers, coaches because the children won’t know they have COVID," Frenck said. "So, by immunizing and preventing infection in the children, we can have a huge indirect effect if the children don’t spread (it) to others," he told The Enquirer in October.

Frenck said he thinks it is likely that Cincinnati Children’s will look at who received placebos should the government approve public use of the vaccines being studied and find a way to give them the vaccine. “These people stepped forward. They helped us be able to get the answers. Without their participation, we never could have done the clinical trials.”

Celebrity status

Laurie Evans, a grade school teacher, said her kids and she applied for the trials as a way to do whatever they could to assist in curbing the pandemic's spread.

"We don't feel like this is heroic," she said. "It's just something that people like us can do that really didn't take a whole lot of time or effort on our part."

Katelyn said she had no idea that she'd become a kind of celebrity.

At Cincinnati Children's that first day, she was greeted not only by medical staff but also a camera from the hospital's media department as she underwent testing and her first shot.

By the time she got home, she was inundated with texts from classmates who saw on TV that she'd been a first. She saw herself on national TV shows and in news articles from around the world. At Oak Hills High, her story was reported on a school news show.

A member of the Oak Hills High School choir, Katelyn left a stack of papers with information about the Cincinnati Children's vaccine trial in her choir room in case other kids were interested in taking part.

"I would encourage anyone whose parents will let them participate to go ahead," Katelyn said. "The more people that participate in things like this, the sooner we can get a vaccine."