Truitt Bush slides down a hill at Trustmark Park in Laurel, Miss., Monday, July 19, 2022. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

LAUREL — What Truitt Bush wanted more than anything in the world was to play on the indoor playground at Chick-fil-A again.

The 4-year-old had spent the majority of his time since March of 2020 inside his Laurel home with his mother. Truitt hadn’t known much of the pre-pandemic world, but he knew he wanted to go back to it. He missed his friends and his gymnastics lessons. 

Truitt’s parents, Anna and Matt, wanted that for him too, but were concerned about his health and safety. Though the two had been vaccinated against COVID-19 soon after they became eligible, children in Truitt’s age group were still ineligible.

Then they heard that Moderna’s pediatric vaccine trial would be coming to Hattiesburg Clinic.

The clinic, which was eligible to participate because of its previous work in clinical trials, was the only health care provider in Mississippi to participate in the pediatric Moderna trials, which involved around 6,700 children across the U.S. and Canada.

Anna said the decision to enroll Truitt in the trial was an easy one after talking it through with friends who are doctors and their children’s pediatrician, Dr. Anita Henderson. Henderson is also the president of the Mississippi Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Anna and Matt Bush poses for a family portrait with their sons, Truitt, left, and Gilliam at Trustmark Park in Laurel, Miss., Monday, July 19, 2022. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

“If she (Henderson) says it’s okay, I’m going to follow what she says,” Anna said. “I know that she has his best interest and the best interest of the children of Mississippi at heart.”

Henderson said she saw a lot of interest from parents in the community whose children were clinic patients or had heard about the trial via word of mouth.

“A lot of families wanted to have that chance of getting their child vaccinated and protected and also just wanted to participate in getting COVID vaccine research out there for the general public to help get the pandemic behind us,” Henderson said. 

Anna and her husband, Matt, didn’t make the decision unilaterally, though. They let Truitt be a part of that process, and he had few reservations about getting what his parents called a “super shot” that would give him the protection he needed for their family to return to some sense of normalcy.

With everyone in agreement, Anna and Matt enrolled Truitt in the Moderna vaccine trial. Truitt was selected to participate. This phase of the trial was open label so they knew Truitt would be getting the actual vaccine and not a placebo.

He received his first dose in early June of 2021. 

The trial, which was slated to last for 14 months, involved a combination of in-office visits, phone calls and e-check-ups using an app. 

The worst part of the experience for Truitt was having blood drawn at each of the five in-person visits, his parents said. He would distract himself by explaining to the nurses and techs what the virus looks like and how the mRNA vaccines work, all things he’d learned by watching educational videos on YouTube. 

“I don’t think you’re going to find a 4-year-old that’s going to tell you getting nasal swabs and blood drawn and a shot is their favorite thing to do on a Tuesday,” Anna said. 

Truitt didn’t experience many symptoms following either of the two shots, only a slight headache and sore leg. Matt jokes that he took it better than either of his parents did, who both had to take a sick day from work after receiving their second dose. 

Now, Truitt has one in-person visit left for the trial, which may be extended to include occasional remote check-ins. 

Truitt’s two-year-old baby brother, Gilliam, is set to receive his vaccine next month. Truitt, now 5 years old, is proud that he played a part in his brother and friends becoming eligible for vaccination. He’s also enjoying a much less restrictive childhood and has even returned to the Chick-fil-A playground. He described it as “the best day ever.”

Henderson, who had multiple patients participate in the vaccine trial, said those who participated played a key role in helping prevent further COVID-19 infections and transmission in Mississippi. 

 “I think we as a community owe them a debt of gratitude,” Henderson said. 

Anna and Matt say they’ve heard some people say, ‘What kind of parents would put their child in a clinical trial?’”

“Nobody says that about clinical trials for other illnesses we’re searching for cures for,” Anna said. “We’re just regular folks in Laurel, and we just want the best for our family and our community. I just hope this helps ease the fears people might have.” 


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Will Stribling covers healthcare and breaking news for Mississippi Today.