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Parent of 6-year-old in COVID-19 vaccine trials shares experience


Now to one of the other big stories of the week. The COVID vaccine program for young children kicked into gear, this after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that all children ages 5 through 11 get the low-dose COVID-19 vaccine made by Pfizer. That's about 28 million children who are now eligible for the shots.

Jonathan Kealing is a father of two who lives with his family in Minneapolis. He works as the chief network officer for the Institute for Nonprofit News. But we called him today because his oldest child, 6-year-old William, was one of the first kids under 12 to get the vaccine this summer. William participated in clinical trials for the Moderna vaccine. And Jonathan Keeling is with us now to tell us about the experience.

Welcome. Thank you for coming.

JONATHAN KEALING: Hi, Michel. Thanks so much for having me.

MARTIN: I understand your son got his first shot in August. What was that like?

KEALING: You know, it was about a two-hour appointment. They did a physical, checked his vitals, took some blood, gave him a COVID test, and then gave him his first vaccine. You know, my son said the worst part was actually the COVID test. And...

MARTIN: Tell me about it.

KEALING: Yeah, I think we all, these days, know what those are like. You know, and then they checked in daily for a week and then weekly for another four weeks after that until it was time for his second dose. And the process all started again.

MARTIN: So you can imagine that, I think, all parents have just been kind of inundated with different - well, No. 1, with a lot of facts but then also a lot of feelings. So I have two questions for you. One is, did you feel like people felt like they could weigh in with you or even judge you for doing this? And I was also wondering how you weighed the risks and benefits when everybody says they're doing research, no matter...

KEALING: (Laughter).

MARTIN: ...You know, whatever that research is.

KEALING: Yeah. You know, to - a couple of great questions there. And I guess maybe I'll take your second one first, which is just to say, you know, we trusted our specific pediatrician and the other pediatric doctors that we know to help us make the best decision. You know, in terms of being judged or whatnot, we didn't keep this a secret. But I also didn't go out and shout it to the rooftops because, you know, No. 1, yeah, there've - I've seen the reactions. And there's a lot of people who have strong feelings about that.

But ultimately, I felt like - you guys mentioned I work at the Institute for Nonprofit News. And trustworthy sources of information are such a huge part of what I work on day in and day out. I felt like this was an example where I could share firsthand with other parents, you know, just what we went through. And yeah, there were some side effects, but they were very minor and very short-lived and exactly the sort of side effects that adults who got vaccinated reported - you know, a sore arm, you know, maybe a fever for a few hours or chills for a few hours. But, you know, part of being in a trial is you can get a placebo.

And when William got those side effects, yeah, he was a little uncomfortable. But he was also super-excited because he knew that that was his immune system responding. And it meant that he was going to be protected. And he was helping other kids be protected in the future.

MARTIN: That's kind of wild. He can go and say, I was part of history.

KEALING: Yeah. And I think that...


KEALING: ...Definitely was something that he liked a little bit. You know, he was on a hike with some friends this morning. And he was pumping the kids up and checking, OK, who's got your vaccine appointments, and telling everyone about his experience because he's excited, you know? He wants to be able to do more indoor play dates. And so he's really excited for his friends to get vaccinated, too.

MARTIN: We've been speaking with Jonathan Kealing in Minneapolis. He's a father of two. His 6-year-old son William participated in clinical trials for the Moderna COVID vaccine this summer. Jonathan Kealing, thanks so much for speaking with us and sharing your experience.

KEALING: Thanks, Michel. It's been great. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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