I’m one of about 44,000 people who’ve been enrolled in the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 Phase 3 vaccine trial. I’m no hero, just a 59-year-old who desperately wants to see my kids who live an airplane flight away; resume my vacations and indoor dining and basically get on with my life.
I felt ecstatic when the news broke Nov. 18 that the Pfizer /zigman2/quotes/202877789/composite PFE +0.19% vaccine was 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 without serious side effects in people who had no previous signs of the disease. Since then, Pfizer has applied to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency access. If that’s approved, the vaccine will be given to the public.
Here’s what it’s been like for me, and a few others I’ve interviewed who are in Pfizer and Moderna /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA -1.47% COVID-19 vaccine trials:
Back on Sept. 1, I reported to the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation in New Haven for my first visit. After meeting with an infectious disease doctor and answering numerous questions to consent to the study, I got my first injection of either the SARS Co-V2 vaccine or a saline placebo. Half of the participants are getting the vaccine and half the placebo.
I have a couple of typical health problems for people my age: hypertension and osteoporosis. (My husband, who’s 67 and a bit healthier, is also participating in the study. Neither of us was excluded based on our age or diagnoses.)
My initial visit took three hours because the “dose” needed to be thawed before administration. Nurses offered me coffee, trail mix and other snacks while I waited, and paid me $100 through a gift card.
That evening, I smiled. My arm hurt. To me, that meant that I got the live vaccine and not the placebo. But I won’t know for sure because the study is “blinded,” meaning no one knows who’s getting what until the study ends. If I did get the placebo, I’ll be offered the vaccine once the study is unblinded.
The day after I got injected, I felt sluggish and tired, with body aches. I duly noted these symptoms in the app that the vaccine trial participants are required to put on our phones. (My husband had no soreness or fatigue.)
About three weeks later, I received a second injection. Again, my arm felt sore, looked red at the injection site and I had body aches and fatigue. (At a meeting with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisers Monday, doctors urged the agency to be upfront about side effects some people may have after receiving the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, including muscle pain, chills and headaches.)
Three weeks after that, my blood was drawn and tested for antibodies to COVID-19. The director of the study, Dr. Onyema Ogbuagu, wouldn’t comment about this.
My next appointment is in March for more blood tests.
Overall, the study is supposed to last 26 months. It will continue even if the vaccine gets approved because researchers need more safety data and long-term efficacy data over a period of time, said Laurie Andrews, a nurse working on the Yale study.
Have I been scared to be in the vaccine trial? No. I know that by the time a drug gets to Phase 3, it’s deemed safe for testing in humans. So, I feel like the risk of participating is small.
Unlike some vaccines, this one doesn’t contain the whole virus or those parts of the virus that can make you sick. Instead, it contains part of the virus’ genetic code — the RNA — surrounded by fatty particles. Your own cells then produce some of the spike protein seen on the outside of the virus. This spike protein helps your body produce antibodies to fight COVID-19.
Dr. Kathryn Boling, 62, a family medicine specialist in Lutherville, Md., also entered a Pfizer trial. She’s hoping to set an example for her patients who may be hesitant to take the vaccine when it’s approved.