‘The best thing I could possibly get’: Austin teen’s birthday wish is for a COVID-19 vaccine

Coronavirus

As some await vaccine authorization for adolescents, one company said increasing vaccinations are making it harder to find trial participants

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As more adults get vaccinated, there’s more emphasis on getting COVID-19 vaccine authorization for teenagers.

We may see that happen within the next week — Pfizer already asked to expand its emergency use authorization.

“She was saying this is the best birthday gift she can get,” said Sabiha Rehman.

“Yeah, the best thing I could possibly get,” said her daughter, Sania Sultan.

Sultan’s birthday is in about 10 days. Her biggest wish: to get the COVID-19 vaccine, like the rest of her family.

Sania Sultan (right) said she can't wait to get back to in-person learning. The freshman has yet to walk her high school halls. (Courtesy: Sabiha Rehman)
Sania Sultan (right) said she can’t wait to get back to in-person learning. The freshman has yet to walk her high school halls. (Courtesy: Sabiha Rehman)

“All four of us are vaccinated, but we were still treating as we are not, because of her; that if we can bring something home, if we go out,” Rehman said.

Sultan will be 15 and hopes the Food and Drug Administration will soon include her age group for emergency use authorization of Pfizer’s shot.

“We are expecting that the EUA [emergency use authorization] will be modified for Pfizer to drop down to age 12 as soon as this week,” said Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County Interim Health Authority, during Tuesday’s Travis County Commissioners Court meeting.

Escott encouraged parents to sign up with vaccinators as soon as that happens, saying about a third of Austin-Travis County is still vulnerable to the disease.

“A significant portion of those are children 15 years old and younger,” Escott said.

He also said middle and high school students have a higher COVID-19 positivity rate, currently at 4.8%, than the community average.

Until a “substantial portion of school-aged” kids can get vaccinated, Escott recommends keeping mask rules in place through summer school.

While Pfizer’s authorization would be a good step, Mark Lacy with Benchmark Research said it might impact other vaccine trials.

“That will make this Novavax study more difficult to enroll, because people can go get vaccinated,” said Lacy, Benchmark Research CEO and founder.

Benchmark is enrolling 12 to 17 year olds in Austin for that trial now but said it has become a lot harder to find people since vaccinations increased in March. Lacy said they are considering increasing their pay to attract more trial participants.

“Our stipends could end up being in the $250-range per visit. Right now it’s in the $150-range per visit,” he said.

Novavax expanded testing for teenagers this week. It has not yet received authorization for the U.S. and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is still in Phase 3 trials here.

Phase 3 usually involves up to 3,000 participants nationwide or globally, said Benchmark. The purpose is to evaluate how the new medication or treatment works in comparison to existing medications for the same condition and is the last step in the testing process before it is submitted for approval then distributed to the public. 

Benchmark is also enrolling adults 18 years and up for the plant-based Medicago vaccine.

Lacey recognizes a smaller participant pool is a “good problem” to have, since it means more people are being vaccinated. But he said there’s still a lot of research to be done.

“We need not… one or two more vaccines authorized, we need at least another five or six. I mean, now we’re talking about vaccinating the world,” he said.

While Sultan didn’t want to risk getting a placebo during a trial, she’s still eager to do her part in the pandemic.

“I just want to go out, travel, see my friends… get back to normal again,” she said. “I’m like, really blessed to even be able to like, live in a country where I can like get the vaccine. I know there’s a bad situation going on a lot of other places like in India right now.”

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