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"Why I volunteered to be part of a teen COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial." —A GL girl tells her story

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Sofia Bernardo, 13, knew she wanted to help. She could have done something small, but instead, she took a huge leap and literally put her own health on the line to help scientists perfect a vaccine that could save lives...including yours.

Editor’s note: For over a year, the world has battled COVID-19, a global pandemic with more than 134 million cases, claiming more than half a million lives here in the U.S. and almost 3 million globally. As scientists implore us to continue to wear masks and social distance, a new threat has emerged: The B.1.1.7 variant, also known as the British variant. This mutation seems to infect those under 18 more readily—and transmits more easily to others.

As GL goes to press, experts are calling for kids as young as 12 to get a COVID vaccine. These recommendations are based on studies like the one Sofia volunteered for, which show the vaccine is safe and effective for teens. To protect yourself and others, we encourage you to talk to your doctor about steps *you* can take to curb the spread of the virus and prevent severe disease.

Never in a million years did I think I would experience life during a literal plague, but that’s exactly what happened. Last spring, when the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States, everything changed. At first, life in lockdown was easy. I binged shows and hung out at home with my family. It almost felt like a vacation from the stress of normal life.

Quickly though, reality hit. This wasn’t a vacation. It was a global health crisis—and it was serious. When a friend’s relative tested positive, I saw just how scary it was to be diagnosed with COVID-19. Soon, Zoom hangouts with my crew turned into supporting each other while navigating our new normal.

When other people I knew tested negative, yet still exhibited symptoms and got sick, I realized how mysterious this virus really was. I started doing research, not just about COVID-19, but about other diseases that spread quickly.

The more I learned, the more I understood how dangerous COVID-19 is. I wanted to do something to help, but I felt powerless. What could a 13-year-old like me do to help fight back against something as massive as an actual pandemic?

I got my answer from my uncle, who participated in a clinical trial for one of the COVID-19 vaccines scientists were working on.

One night, he came to dinner and told us about it. I was instantly fascinated. I was so proud of him, but it didn’t occur to me that I could do the same thing. My parents were actually the ones who pointed out that there were opportunities for teens to participate in clinical trials, too. When they asked if I would be interested in taking part in a vaccine study, I said yes right away.

But it wasn’t that simple. Even though my gut reaction was to enroll, there was a lot to consider.

First, as my parents explained, I would have to be pulled out of school. Then, of course, there were the potential health issues to consider. That part made me nervous. Even though I knew deep down that I was very healthy and strong, the list of potential side effects of the vaccine was lengthy—and some of them were dramatic.

It was possible that I could just walk away with a sore arm, but it was also possible that I could get very sick just from taking the vaccine. The waiver about the potential risks and side effects was 25 pages long. It was intense.

I tried to be calm. But the truth is, I was really scared throughout the whole process, which didn’t just include getting the shots of the vaccine, but other daunting things, like having multiple blood draws.

The hardest moment in the process was when I had to get the second shot. I knew the side effects were supposed to be worse after the second dose, but since I was one of the first teenagers ever to get the vaccine, it was impossible to really know what to expect.

I was allowed to take pain medication like Tylenol to help with the side effects if I needed it, but I decided before I got the second shot that I’d try to fully experience all of the side effects so I could give the most accurate report possible.

That decision turned out to be easier said than done though, because the soreness I felt in my arm after the second shot was pretty painful. My arm almost felt like it was going to fall off my body (or even the face of the Earth) and there was a constant ache. I could barely lift my backpack.

Otherwise, my side effects were really mild, like a very slight fever. All told, I was feeling much better after about eight hours. Even the soreness was mostly gone by then. And it was definitely worth a day of arm pain to contribute to stopping the spread of the pandemic.

Without a doubt, there were plenty of moments during the process when I thought about backing out, but any time that happened I made myself think about all of the people I would be helping, including my 82-year-old grandpa. Even though the U.S. has made incredible strides, there are still many cases popping up every day. We may be in the homestretch, but we are not at the finish line.

Before the pandemic, I lived in a bubble. And, tbh, I loved that bubble because it’s where I felt safe and comfortable. Now, I realize that it’s our responsibility, even just as teens, to walk out of that bubble.

You have to get out of your comfort zone and do things that help make the world a better place, even if that means doing something scary.

Participating in a COVID-19 vaccine trial was easily one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, but that also makes it one of the bravest. And, truthfully, it was all worth it to know I helped make a difference when it really counted. For my family, my friends and, hopefully, for you.

Hey, girl! Just wanted to let you know that this story originally ran in our June/July 2021 issue. Want more? Read the print mag for free *today* when you click HERE


by As told to Kayleigh Roberts | 5/18/2021