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One afternoon in May, Michael Joseph Smith, a paediatric infectious disease specialist, strides in baseball-patterned socks through a Duke University facility in Durham, North Carolina, to welcome Cameron O’Hara, a 14-year-old vaccine trial subject. Smith has been acting as co-principal investigator at one of the sites that’s been testing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in children.

O’Hara and his mother have come to the office after the “unblinding” process — in which he’d learnt, to his disappointment, that he’s been getting a placebo — to get his first dose of the real thing. He crosses his sneakers and grips his mother’s hand as the needle goes into his arm...

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