About the Guest Author: Angela Brinker, BS, MS has a Master’s Degree in Nutrition and Human Performance and currently works in a research support position. She is open to new work and is actively seeking a role in either health and wellness, nutrition, or a nutrition medical research lab. Find her on LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/angela-brinker-researchnutrition.
My Experience Participating in a COVID-19 Vaccine Trial
I was one of the earliest recipients of a COVID-19 vaccine. Although I didn’t know whether I was given the active vaccine or the saline placebo at the time, I received my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine as a part of their phase III trial on August 27, 2020. I volunteered because, like many, I felt helpless in the midst of the pandemic, and I wanted to help in any way I could.
The trial was really efficient from start to finish. Once I made it past the initial phone call to determine my eligibility, my first assessment appointment lasted about 4 hours. Upon arrival I was given a physical exam, blood tests to check for antibodies from any previous COVID infections, and a nasal swab to test for COVID. I discussed the process of the vaccine trial and the informed consent document with a member of the research site staff. At this point I was allowed to ask questions about the process and make sure I felt comfortable with what I was signing up for. My biggest concern was whether I would be able to get the real vaccine through the trial, if and when it became available to the public, assuming I was a placebo recipient in the trial. I was happy to hear that if I entered the trial as placebo recipient, I would still have an opportunity to get the vaccine if it was approved (or given emergency approval (EUA) as it turns out). As with any trial, I was also free to drop out at any time, for any reason, but I went in with the intention of staying committed for the full two-year period once I started.
Finally, after three or so hours, I went to another section of the office to get my injection. That part was quick and relatively painless – less painful than the seasonal flu shot. I still had to sit in an observation room and wait another half hour to make sure there was no immediate reaction of any kind. They set me up with an app on my phone to log my symptoms and monitor my progress, which I would complete once a week for the duration of the study, and at any time I had COVID symptoms. The trial was double blinded, so I went home not knowing if I had the vaccine or not. By the next day, though, my guess was that I had been given the vaccine. My arm was sore and I felt very tired, but otherwise fine. By the second day I was back to normal. Three weeks after my first shot I went back for the second dose. This time the appointment was much shorter; just long enough for the shot and the 30-minute waiting period. The day after that I was even more certain I had the active vaccine as I began to feel achy, cold, and super tired all day. And once again, those symptoms were gone within 24 hours.
Since those appointments, I’ve been back for blood tests twice to check how my antibodies are holding up. This part of the trial is still blinded, so I haven’t been told what the results of these blood tests are. Some trial participants have gone out and had private antibody tests done to look for levels of the spike protein, but I never felt the need to. I thought that if I saw that my levels were low, I would be nervous. I also realized that at this point there isn’t enough data to tell us whether those protein levels signify immunity, or whether it’s possible to show low levels in the test results and still be well protected. This is something I know the trials are continuing to monitor and investigate.
I was officially unblinded in February of 2021 as more people were becoming eligible to receive the vaccine under the EUA – and as I suspected, I was in the active vaccine group. As time goes on, Pfizer is moving toward trying to figure out if a booster shot is needed – and that takes another round of trials. I will be going back soon to get either a booster or a placebo – I won’t know which one for a while. Public reactions to my story are always interesting; some people have thanked me and called me a hero, and others want to know about my experience to combat their own fears. All I know is I was glad to do it, and what’s more, I honestly felt relieved when I believed I had received the vaccine. I worried a lot less about getting sick, and especially about getting sick and passing the virus to someone else. Although I already had a general understanding of how clinical trials work from classes I’ve taken, it was very interesting to experience it directly and I’m so glad I could have a small part in helping to end this pandemic and potentially save lives.
Disclaimer: The above is the testimony of one COVID-19 vaccine trial participant and has been edited for clarity. This testimony is not intended to suggest treatment for or diagnose COVID-19. If you believe you have, or may have been exposed to COVID-19, please take the necessary precautions to avoid spreading the virus. You can visit the CDC website for guided instructions. To learn more about the Covid-19 vaccine and where you can get yours, please visit https://www.vaccines.gov/.