This Latina doctor wanted to spark trust in the COVID vaccines. So, she enrolled her babies in a clinical trial.
Alicia Carrasco could feel her arms getting tired from the weight of her 1-year-old son, Joaquín. She looked over across the room at her husband who was holding the baby's twin brother, Nico.
The boys clocked a low-grade fever earlier that morning. They were fussy and tired, and refused to leave their parents’ arms without a tantrum.
On days when her sons get sick, Carrasco is normally filled with worry. But this day she was relieved, because it meant their little bodies were likely building up immunity to protect them against COVID-19.
“I felt guilty over how happy I was that they got sick, but now it’s a huge weight off my shoulders,” she said.
There are no authorized COVID-19 vaccines in the U.S. for children younger than 5 years old. But kids like Carrasco’s twins and 3-year-old son, Matías, who participated in Moderna’s trial, are helping to change that.
The twins received their second jab a few weeks ago, and Matías is scheduled to get his next shot in a few weeks. Velocity Clinical Research, a clinical trial site organization, enrolled about 650 children at four locations across the country.
A quarter of the children received the placebo and the rest were vaccinated with 25 micrograms of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. No one knows for certain which they were given, but Carrasco is confident the sudden fever she saw in the twins is a sign they were jabbed with the active vaccine.
“They were definitely sleeping a lot more the next day, fussy and had spiked fevers,” she said. “Nothing major, and it went away 36 hours after the shot.”
Carrasco will find out for sure when the trial ends next year or a vaccine for their age group receives emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration. Once that happens, trial participants will be unblinded and can choose to get vaccinated if they got the placebo.
As an internal medicine physician and chair of the Scarce Resource Allocation Committee at the Boise VA Medical Center, Carrasco has felt the full brunt of the virus. She longs for the pandemic to be over, and saw the opportunity to enroll her children in a clinical trial as another way to be a part of that effort.
“I have been lucky in the world as a recipient of other people being a part of trials and putting themselves on the line for approval of medications and vaccines that I get to use … It’s the fair and right thing to do to give back,” she said. “Someone’s got to do it. My kids are the most important thing in the world to me but so is anyone else’s kids who have been a part of trials.”
Many of Carrasco’s coworkers followed her example and enrolled their children in the same vaccine trial. Some, however, were less willing.
“Some coworkers were like, ‘Oh man, I’m getting the shots for myself but I would never put my child through that,’” she said. “There’s a lot of mistrust and fear about it because it’s ‘new’ technology and there is so much misinformation.”
Carrasco understands her friends’ hesitancy, but she thinks about her family in Chile who still don’t have access to any of the COVID-19 vaccines.
“They don’t even have access to (the vaccine) to be scared of it. They’re so desperate to have anything,” she said. “That’s how most of the world is. We have the luxury of being able to say no.”
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Now that Nico and Joaquín are presumably vaccinated, she can’t wait to bring them to Chile to meet her family for the first time. The vaccine not only protects the twins from COVID-19 while traveling, but it also reduces the risk of bringing the virus to her unprotected family.
Matías also takes pride in protecting his vulnerable family members. He often boasts of his bravery at the doctor’s office and the toys his parents buy with the money they’re given for participating in the trial, which they jokingly refer to as his “blood money.”
“He goes, ‘Grandmama, I get to see you and you get to visit because I went to the office,’” Carrasco said. “He gets super proud of the blood draws and being a big boy there.”
Carrasco’s story has inspired some of her most hesitant patients to put trust in the vaccines. She hopes it can also encourage others to get vaccinated, vaccinate their eligible children and maybe even enroll their younger kids in clinical trials to speed up the authorization process.
“I had a couple of patients say, ‘Wow, that’s really powerful. I’m going to get the shot, now,’” she said. “This is a safe vaccine, and I think it’s so safe that I’m willing to give the three people I love most in the world the shot. I wouldn’t do that if I thought I was compromising their health.”
Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.
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