Participating meant that they would receive a vaccine before other children their age and that researchers would take samples of blood and nasal fluid to see if the vaccine was working. Their mother, a nurse who volunteered for an adult coronavirus study, warned that giving a blood sample would be a bit of a nuisance. And it would be weird when a nurse sticks a cotton swab up her nose to collect nasal fluid. But both boys said they still wanted to participate.
“I didn’t hesitate about the vaccine,” says Sam. “I was more hesitant about the process leading up to getting the vaccine. But I realized that I should probably do this because it will help a lot of people and end this pandemic.”
Sam and Jay are among tens of thousands of children who are helping doctors, nurses and other researchers learn more about ways to help people stay healthy. Some children are also participating in studies of new methods to help sick people get better.
Scientists need to study how the drugs work in children to make sure they get the right amount, says Robert Frenck, a physician who leads vaccine research at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in Ohio, where Sam and Jay got their shots.
Children are also helping scientists learn whether certain drugs work better for certain groups. To answer this important question, researchers make a special effort to include children from a variety of backgrounds, says Fernanda Young, MD, at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland.
Chauncey, a sixth grader in Denver, recently joined a study at Children’s Hospital Colorado to find out whether a certain drug will help black and Hispanic children with asthma breathe easier. “I feel good about studying,” says Chauncey, who likes to play soccer but has to stay out when his asthma flares up.
It takes a lot of courage for a child to agree to sign up for a medical test. Anthony Cross, a fourth-grader from Raleigh, North Carolina, says he’s glad he helped researchers at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine test a drug designed to dampen his body’s crazy reaction to many common foods. , including eggs, wheat and peanuts. .
Before he started getting the shots three years ago, just one small bite from the wrong thing could send him to the hospital. The study was a little scary because, to see if the shots were working, Anthony had to eat some of the foods that made him sick, but members of his research team stayed around to help in case he had a dangerous reaction. The good news is that the injections seem to have helped. Now he can enjoy foods like donuts and pizza. He ate his first piece of cake for his birthday when he turned 10 last year.
Children don’t always have to take a medicine or an injection to help with medical research. More than 8,600 children across the United States and Europe are participating in a National Institutes of Health study to learn more about Type 1 diabetes, a serious condition in which the body cannot process sugar properly. In addition to blood and nasal fluid, these children also provide researchers with pee, poo, saliva (a fancy name for spit) and toenail clippings.
Tilly Gershbein, a sophomore in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to the diabetes study from the time she was born until she turned 16 last year. She admits that when she was younger, she wasn’t always happy about donating blood and answering questions from nosy researchers. But when Tilly grew up and realized she had an aunt with diabetes, she recognized the importance of research. “I think it’s really cool,” she said.
Placebo (pronounced pluh-SEE-bo): A fake pill or injection that scientists sometimes give to a group of participants in a clinical trial. The researchers compare how the placebo group responded to those given a real drug. When both groups react the same, it tells the researchers that the real drug might not be working.
fun fact: Participants in a study are often not told whether they received the real medicine or the placebo because knowing this can affect the results of the study. Sometimes even researchers don’t know who got the placebo and who got the real one.