When Vaughn Granlund’s mother was hospitalized recently for a post-cancer complication, she couldn’t get a regular hospital room because beds were full with COVID-19 patients. The experience reinforced his earlier decision to participate in a vaccine trial.
After a friend told her about a Moderna vaccine trial for adolescents, Mary Granlund, newly elected Columbia Heights School Board member, made sure son Vaughn had all of the information and details about the trial, and that he wanted to participate of his own volition. The 13-year-old applied for a spot and soon became part of the study.
“It’s been really important to me that he has a voice, and his consent,” said Mary. “Every step along the way, I would stop and ask Vaughn, ‘Are you interested?’”
The clinical trial “Teen Cove,” led in Minnesota by Clinical Research Institute, offered 200 of the 3,000 nationwide spots to Minnesota adolescents who were interested in the study. The study does not guarantee that a participant receives the vaccine, but is a chance to see the impact of the Moderna vaccine on adolescents between the ages of 12-17 in a randomized study over the course of 13 months. Each participant has six in-person visits and 11 follow-up phone calls, and is asked to keep a journal about how they physically feel during the study period. A cash incentive is given to each participant at the end of the study, depending on the level of study participation and follow-through. Participants must meet certain health-related criteria and pass several assessments before starting the vaccine trial process.
For Vaughn, having a spot in this trial meant a chance to help continue to pave a path toward herd immunity and minimizing COVID-19 cases. “I was very excited to help out with this and be a part of history,” he said. “I am doing this to see if it is safe for kids around my age. I think if it does work, kids should get it. It should be their choice, but I would say most kids should [get the vaccine]. I just want to help out.”
Although there is no guarantee that Vaughn received the Moderna vaccine versus the placebo, a saline solution, both he and Mary talked about participating in a clinical trial. Mary, a breast cancer survivor, is part of a clinical trial for fast-tracked chemotherapy.
She understands the impact the data from a trial like Teen Cove can have on the community.
“I know what it is like to be a part of a clinical trial and what that means for people who are coming behind us,” Mary said. “In our family, that has always been important. It is not necessarily what it does for us, but what it does for everybody else.”
Vaughn said he hopes as vaccines continue to roll out, that hospital beds will become more accessible to others who may experience significant medical conditions not related to COVID-19. Recently, his mother was hospitalized for sepsis secondary to post-breast cancer lymphedema, forced to spend four days in an emergency room due to completely filled floors serving COVID-19 patients. “I think that everybody should try and get vaccinated,” said Vaughn. “It will help keep our community safe and keep a lot of people healthy. It will also clear up beds in the hospitals.”
As guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) leads the vaccine dissemination process, educators are now the focus for vaccination. With many schools reopening, including Minneapolis Public Schools, teaching on-site has created anxiety for some because not all educators will be vaccinated by the time schools open their doors.
As a newly-elected school board member in Columbia Heights, Mary Granlund believes educators should be prioritized due to their contact with students and because vaccines have not been approved for most students under the age of 18 like Vaughn, who can still carry and spread COVID-19.
“Educators are essential,” said Mary. “We have known that for years, but with having to switch to distance learning throughout the state, and how that has upended every other aspect of our lives like how we can work, when we can work, or even go to the grocery store – those are impacted by us having to do distance learning. I think it is really imperative that we vaccinate the healthcare workers who are on the front lines, but I think we need to focus on the educators too. Most people know the importance of our school system, and I think it is really clear now that we need to have an increased investment in our school system. Right now, that also has to include making sure our schools and our staff are healthy and safe.”
Recently, Hennepin County District Judge Susan Robiner enacted a temporary restraining order to allow for accommodations to Minneapolis Public Schools teachers after the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers union filed a civil injunction against the district saying sending teachers back to school without enough safety protocols in place was putting teachers at risk of COVID-19. Many teachers have concerns similar to Granlund: the safety concerns about returning to work and apprehension surrounding not being vaccinated before starting in-person learning.
With spring and summer approaching, both Granlunds hope that vaccination can happen quickly, and that the community is amenable to receiving a vaccine when the different phases occur, so people can resume some sense of normalcy. “I think it will tie our community together a bit more because we can see each other after a while,” said Vaughn. “I would like everyone to get the vaccine as soon as it is available so we can all live happier.”
The Teen Cove clinical trial for adolescents 12-17 is currently full in Minnesota, but continues to waitlist interested participants. More information about Teen Cove can be located at: www.teencovestudy.com. More information on Clinical Research Institute, which runs the Minnesota Moderna clinical trial, can be found at: https://criminnesota.com/volunteer/current-studies-2/.
Below: Vaughn Granlund gets a shot during a vaccine trial for teenagers. (Photo provided by Mary Granlund)