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'I wanted to help' | Morristown teen joins Pfizer vaccine trial

There are no COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized for children 15 and younger. Emma-Kate Stibler of Morristown is helping change that.

MORRISTOWN, Tenn. — For Betsy Stibler and her family, participating in clinical trials is nothing new.

Years ago, she enrolled her baby in a trial that led to a better diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus (DPT) shot for kids. 

When she became ill with COVID-19, Betsy Stibler joined a monoclonal antibody trial. Her oldest son participated in the AstraZeneca vaccine trial. 

And now, her 13-year-old daughter Emma-Kate Stibler is taking part in Pfizer's vaccine trial for pediatric patients.

"My background is in science," Betsy Stibler said. "Allowing [Emma-Kate] to enroll in a vaccine trial was was not something that was concerning to us."

In fact, it was Emma-Kate's idea after learning about how the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines worked at school. 

"We learned about mRNA and I heard that's how the vaccine works," Emma-Kate said. "This really was like an opportunity for me to kind of help them get data so they could progress with getting kids vaccinated."

RELATED: LIST: Where can I get the COVID-19 vaccine in East Tennessee

Emma-Kate said the past year has been stressful with little sports and online schooling. She wants to do her part in getting things back to normal as soon as possible.

"I want people to not be afraid to participate and to get vaccinated," Emma-Kate said. "It's really not that bad. You can just get vaccinated and then we can have herd immunity."

Every few weeks, she goes to Kentucky in order to participate. She's gotten two shots so far, as well as blood draws. She also takes a COVID-19 test every two weeks.

RELATED: When will children be able to get COVID-19 vaccines?

"I don't know if it was the real or the placebo. It was a 50/50 chance," Emma-Kate said. "It didn't hurt much, but I did have a few side effects."

The Stiblers hope that means she got the real vaccine — a step towards a more normal future.

"Doing the research really made us feel comfortable that if she was lucky enough to get the vaccine, that she would be protected and it wouldn't harm her," Betsy Stibler said. "We've got to contribute to the body of science."

Once Pfizer receives approval for people 12 and older, they plan to enroll even younger pediatric patients. Betsy Stibler said she has an 11-year-old who is already on the list to enroll.