Monday April 13, I receive a COVID-19 vaccine. If you think, “Tthere is no vaccine at this time” You are right. I am one of 45 volunteers who have been selected to participate in a clinical trial with the University of Washington. So I’m going to help determine if a) this potential vaccine works and b) it’s safe. To be clear: it means that I will be injected with a substance designed to cause the same antibody response in my body as the new coronavirus – and I’m not sure exactly what will happen to me when it happens.
Why did I decide to risk my health to participate in an untested vaccine trial?
About six weeks ago, I was feeling what I think a lot of people are going through right now: I wanted to make an impact during this terrible time – do something other than order deliveries from local restaurants to try to keep them at flow (even if I do it too).
I have a master’s degree in public health and a former professor of mine posted a call for volunteers to be part of this clinical trial on Facebook. Researchers were looking for people aged 18 to 55 who did not have serious health problems to participate in a participant selection process – and it so happens that I meet all the initial qualifications: I am young (30 years) , I am healthy. So I filled out the short form and I didn’t know if anything would result.
Because of my background in public health, I am a strong advocate for the importance of vaccines.
At first there were a lot of comparisons between the new coronavirus and the flu, and I think a lot of people misunderstood what it means for an easily transmissible virus that we have no way of keeping from having a impact on a community.
We lose a lot of people from the flu every year, but we also have flu shots – and that gives partial protection to the community. This virus is entirely new (which is why it is called a novel coronavirus). We now understand the severity of this virus better than we did a few weeks ago, but we are all learning more about it.
Signing up for the test really excited me – the science nerd in me really came out. Preparing a vaccine for a clinical trial is a tedious process, so the fact that the researchers feel ready to test it on humans is impressive. As thrilled as I was to sign up, I assumed I wouldn’t hear anything in response. I thought there were tons of people applying, and I also didn’t know how long the link had been active. Could someone even view my submission?
I was surprised when I received a phone call about 10 days later. The research coordinator delved into the information about the trial, making sure I knew I was asking for a new vaccine for an entirely new virus. I answered a few dozen questions about my health and family history. Fortunately for me, the research institute leading the trial is also my health care provider, so they can easily access my health records, which I think has streamlined the process. After 20 minutes, I was told that they would review my records and contact me in a few days if all went well.
Three days later, they called back to schedule an in-person screening with a nurse practitioner the following week. It was then that I thought, “Oh, it could be real. “
It was the first time I had a hint of nervousness.
At the in-person meeting, I answered more questions about my health (I had to discuss things you didn’t even think were related to immunity, like the hip injury I had in seventh grade ). I had blood and received a physical exam. A week later, I received a reminder: my labs were good and I was officially allowed to participate in the trial. I have seven scheduled appointments for the next nine weeks and then have follow-up visits three, six and twelve months later. I will be paid $ 100 for each.
I was sent a 20 page consent form. He described the potential side effects. Most of the risks are minor things like pain or tiny red bumps at the injection site (much like any vaccine). There is always the risk of infection with any blood test. Mild flu-like symptoms are another possible side effect, so I’m ready to feel blah and sore for a day or two as my body builds a response to the vaccine.
This is the last chip on the form that is a little scary: it has never been tested on humans before.
However, I would say this: while, yes, something weird and dangerous could happen, that’s why the selection process is so complete. Researchers know I have no allergies to drugs and no history of adverse reactions to vaccines, so there is not too much reason to believe that something scary will happen when I get my first injection next week . Also, I know they started giving the vaccine to the first round of study participants two weeks ago, so if something had really gone wrong, they would have warned me and I still wouldn’t involved.
Monday I go for my first round of vaccination, which is an injection. The meeting is scheduled for three hours. Although the shooting is rapid, I must remain for surveillance so as not to have an immediate reaction. They will also call to monitor me the first and second day after the shot. For six days, I will take my temperature every day and keep a paper log, which I will then take with me for my follow-up visit a week later.
I will receive the second and final cycle of the vaccine one month after that.
In this trial, the vaccine does not include any part of the live virus.
Vaccine injections are expected to trigger the same antibody response in me as if I were infected with the new coronavirus – which, in theory, would protect me from the virus if I were to be exposed to it downstream. They will compare my initial blood tests before the vaccine to after the vaccine to check for these antibodies.
Subsequent follow-up visits will involve taking blood samples to check for this antibody response. The way the study is organized, each participant is randomly assigned to receive one of three different doses or concentrations of vaccine. That’s the only weird part – I could get a small, medium, or large dose, and that may or may not make a difference. And none of them can work at all.
So far, I have not hesitated or hesitated to participate in the trial.
I feel comfortable with all of this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Monday morning I got nervous before entering.
From what I understand, there is very little risk of getting sicker than if I had the infection itself (because the vaccine contains no live version of the virus). There is also a risk that this vaccine will not work, so I could still get COVID-19 while it is prevalent here in Seattle and get sick this way.
But it’s a risk that we all have right now, to one degree or another, so I’m not particularly concerned about that either (especially since I’m already doing what I can to limit my exposure any potential infection). In this case, I would be more disappointed than anything else, because that would mean that they have to start all over again to design a vaccine for the public.
If the vaccine works in this trial, I don’t even know when to wait for the results, as they will continue to check for antibodies in my blood for a year. I also don’t know when they’ll introduce it to the general public – there are just too many unknowns.
The standard timeline that I keep reading for a vaccine to be in production is 12 to 18 months, because even if it works, they have to make sure that it can be given safely to people who do not fall under the qualifications required for this. study. This means that it should be tested on children, people over 55 and people with chronic medical and mental health conditions. So we are still very early in the process.
I didn’t tell many people that I was involved in the trial. My mom doesn’t even know.
I swear I’ll tell her (hi, mom!). I didn’t hide it from her on purpose. He’s a doctor who lives across the country far from me, and I know she will understand. Many of my friends are in the public health field, so they understand too.
At the start of the process, my boyfriend asked me if part of the reason I wanted to do this was for possible protection against COVID-19. I don’t think that’s it. I’m not looking for personal protection, but I hope that’s what’s going on. If so, it may indicate that the vaccine could work for other people – and that is really what I hope it will result from all this.