Meet the children taking part in the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID vaccine trial for kids

LONDON — A group of children as young as 12 have become the first to have the coronavirus vaccine as part of a U.K. trial. The very first youngsters received the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine last week as part of the national trial to test its immune response. It will be given to a total of 260 children in the coming weeks, with the hope the inoculation 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 he persuaded his parents to let him take part upon hearing them talking about it in the kitchen. He said the most exciting part was getting to try out his signature for the first time, on the consent forms.

Bertie Wood, 12, with mom Laura Wood. (Credit: SWNS)

“No one had told me about it until I was being nosy! I said ‘I really, really, really want to do it’, and was super excited,” he recalls. “I just thought that it would be nice to do my bit for science. I have been watching more ‘science-y’ programs just to see more stuff about it. I’m not that interested in science, but I definitely am interested in doing my part.”

Parents didn’t have to ask their children to volunteer for the COVID vaccine trial

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

His mother, Laura Wood, 42, 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 he heard it and said ‘I want to do that’,” says Laura, who works in digital marketing. “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 and I probably took a little bit more convincing – they had to convince me! It was that sort of fear of the unknown and as as soon as I had read more about it and all the stuff the information the Oxford vaccine group sent through, my mind was put at ease.”

The four study sites for the kids trial are The University of Oxford, St George’s University Hospital, London, University Hospital Southampton and Bristol Royal Hospital for Children. While 260 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 had, it seemed like like win-win for them,” adds Laura. “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.”

Laura, a mother of two, was originally tentative about posting Bertie’s vaccine on social media, and telling friends, fearing a backlash. “I am very active on social media and usually publish every little detail of my life and in this case I haven’t,” she says. “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 realized 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 centers, and started receiving their first doses on February 16.

‘It’s fun to be part of something that’s helping everyone out’

Phoebe Howard, 13, got her first dose last Wednesday at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford. She was particularly impressed by the hot chocolate on offer at the test center.

Phoebe Howard, 13, with her mother, Dr. Emily Lawson. (Credit: SWNS)

“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. 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,” she says. “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!”

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

Her mother, Dr. Emily Lawson, is the chief commercial officer at NHS England and responsible for vaccine deployment. She 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! 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,” Lawson says. “She knows what I’m spending my time on and how I’ve been full-time on the vaccine program so she’s heard a lot about it.”

Facing criticism

Lawson posted a photo of her daughter getting the vaccine on Twitter, and got some backlash. “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 anti-vax propaganda,” she says “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!”

Lawson sees things from a more optimistic perspective and believes Phoebe is doing something for the greater good.

“It’s part of supporting science and supporting the country,” she says. “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 that they will observe a similar immune response to adult recipients so children are protected, and that this success will help reduce the spread of the virus.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has said there is evidence COVID-19 can cause death and severe illness in children, but that this is rare.

Story written by SWNS reporter Fiona Jackson