9-year-old Edwardsburg student enrolled in Moderna vaccine trial

NILES — Last week, as most southwest Michigan children were soaking up the last days of summer vacation, 7-year-old Scarlett Mason was pleading with a nurse to try for an eighth time to draw her blood.

While many children — and adults alike — flinch at the sight of a needle, the Edwardsburg student was adamant to have her blood drawn again, even after seven failed attempts to draw enough. Like her big sister, Ellorie, Scarlett was on a mission to get the COVID-19 vaccine and needed a sufficient sample before she could receive it.

“The vaccines rolled out for the adults and the girls kind of saw everyone in their life getting vaccinated and they were really interested in the kids’ vaccines,” said the girls’ mom, Jennifer Mason. “They started asking questions about that and when they would be able to re rolled out.”

Ellorie turned 9 on Wednesday, five days after receiving the first dose of Moderna’s mRNA vaccine in Lexington, Kentucky. The Masons had enrolled in multiple trials for both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and ultimately decided to opt with Moderna due to the proximity of the trial location.

Jennifer, a professional specialist who teaches a variety of chemistry and physics classes at Saint Mary’s College, has a deep understanding of the vaccine and the virus itself due to her background as a professional scientist.

“There’s definitely a lot of hesitation [to get vaccinated], especially with kids,” she said. “The truth is that for the most part, COVID outcomes in kids are really good.”

Jennifer said she knows the odds of her children dying from COVID-19 are slim.

“What I’m really concerned about is that we don’t know the long-term effects of COVID, let alone the vaccine,” she said. “You kind of have to choose whether you think the vaccine is going to have concerning long-term effects, or whether you think the virus is going to have long-term effects.”

A December 2020 article published by the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania found “elevated levels of a biomarker related to blood vessel damage in children with SARS-CoV-2 infection” — even if the children only had mild symptoms of the virus. Researchers also found a large proportion of children met clinical and diagnostic criteria for thrombotic microangiopathy, which causes clotting in small blood vessels “and has been identified as a potential cause for severe manifestations of COVID-19 in adults,” according to the research.

“In that case, I feel really great about the safety of the vaccine,” Jennifer said. “I don’t feel really great about the safety of the virus.”

Ellorie’s trial, called KidCOVE, will eventually test children of all ages to determine the effectiveness and safety the vaccine in children.

Unlike other vaccines like those for the flu or smallpox, COVID-19 vaccines do not contain any form of virus (live or dead). COVID-19 vaccines are made from an instructional molecule called mRNA, which teaches cells how to make protein. If the body encounters the virus after receiving the vaccine, it has already been trained to fight it.

“I think MrNA vaccines in general are going to be our generation’s defining moment in medicine,” Jennifer said, marveling over the new method. “I think it will be like antibiotics’ impact when they went on scene.”

She said she understands the trepidation behind the new technology, but encourages anyone with concerns to reach out to a trusted health professional, rather than seeking information elsewhere.

“People don’t have concerns addressed or their minds changed over Facebook memes or YouTube videos of people you don’t know,” she said. “One of the reasons why I even decided to share the information about joining the trial was to open the door to conversation. I hope people will want to sit down and get a cup of coffee and talk about why they are nervous.”

Ellorie received the first shot last week — a dose smaller than the adult dose, but still enough for someone her size to fight the virus should she be exposed to it.

“We can’t even find the injection site, and she’s had no fever,” Jamie said about the side effects.

Ellorie will receive her second dose in four weeks, and will have a number of telemedicine visits with medical professionals to discuss the effects.

Although Scarlett was unable to participate, she was happy to cheer her sister on.

“She is anxiously waiting for the authorization of the vaccine and will be getting vaccinated as soon as she can,” Jennifer said.

As for Ellorie, she has one thing to say to anyone still on the fence about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

“The vaccine doesn’t hurt!” she said. “I can’t even feel it. I think it’s OK!”

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