posted on 11/17/2020 17:58
(credit: Leila MACOR / AFP)
A key facet in the frantic global struggle that Pfizer, Moderna and other pharmaceutical groups are waging to develop a viable coronavirus vaccine is the recruitment of tens of thousands of volunteers willing to participate in clinical trials.
AFP Miami correspondent Leila Macor took part in the phase 3 study organized by Moderna, a US biotechnology company, which announced on Monday that its experimental vaccine against covid-19 is almost 95% effective.
Why did Macor, who suffers from asthma, decide to be one of the 30,000 individuals in the Moderna study? Here she recounts her experience, which started a few weeks after her own father died of covid-19 in Chile.
– Delicate decision –
My father died three weeks before clinical trials for Pfizer and Moderna began in late July. He died alone, as did the victims of this virus.
While my brothers, my mother and I tried to deal with the loss in our confinements in different countries, I came across another dangerous reality: Miami, and Florida in general, became the main focus of the virus in the United States. And my job was to cover that story.
The idea of doing something actively to help defeat this plague offered me some peace. I discussed this with friends and family and they all helped me to conclude that, as I am asthmatic, the risk of a potential side effect of the vaccine could not be greater than the risk that I would run if I contracted the coronavirus. And so, I decided to participate.
Two days after writing an article for AFP about the start of Phase 3 clinical trials in Florida, I was knocking on the research center door again. But this time, as an object of study.
Research Centers of America, in the Hollywood suburb, north of Miami, were developing tests by Pfizer and Moderna. They alternated. One day, another day the other.
Dozens of other research centers in the rest of the country also recruited volunteers. Anyone could volunteer, as long as the chances of contagion were high: waiters, doctors, taxi drivers or reporters. I made an appointment for a Tuesday, which would be on a Modern day.
– Vaccine or placebo? –
They put a sticker with my name on my shirt and took me to an office, where they explained what I would read later in a 22-page document.
The test consisted of two doses. The volunteers would receive $ 2,400 over the two-year study period. We were warned of possible side effects, from pain at the injection site to fever and chills.
The 30,000 individuals would be divided into two groups: half would receive the vaccine; the other half, the placebo.
“We ourselves don’t know which is which,” the nurse told me, when I tried to find out if I would fall into the placebo group. Only Moderna knows, but not before compiling and analyzing its data.
I asked what would happen if I did an antibody test, but she told me that the results would not be conclusive.
“Uncertainty is going to kill me,” he said.
Then, the nurse, who was measuring my blood pressure, looked up and said very seriously: “Placebos are as important as vaccines. It is impossible to do the trial without the control group. You are helping humanity in the same way” .
I felt guilty about being obsessed with my role in the clinical trial, instead of focusing on the bigger goal: helping everyone to overcome the pandemic. And I stopped asking.
– Report in two doses –
The nurse collected my blood to fill six or eight tubes – I lost count. They took a pregnancy test. They strongly insisted on using contraceptives.
“We still don’t know the effect of the vaccine on the fetus,” they told me several times.
Then two people came with the vaccine in a refrigerator. Or the placebo. They laughed when I asked them to let me take a picture. What for me was a historic moment for them was any Tuesday.
The injection didn’t hurt. They took me to a waiting room, where they kept me for half an hour for observation. Three or four other volunteers were lazily looking at the phone. A Cuban nurse was wearing a red Superman cape.
“Why the cover?”, I asked her. “Because we are all heroes here,” she told me.
They gave me several stickers, a t-shirt and a mask, all with the phrase “Covid warriors”, and asked me to download the application where I would report my temperature and possible symptoms.
When I got home, the injection site was already sore. “Did I get the vaccine?”, I thought.
I spent the next three days researching whether an injection of serum causes muscle pain, but I got no response.
The second dose was in mid-September. It hurt a lot more, and for two days the injection site was swollen and hot. Still, it is impossible to be sure. I have already adapted to the idea of waiting for Moderna one day to tell me if I am vaccinated or not.
I realized that participating in the clinical trial was a way to process grief. For my father and the world that the virus is leaving us as a gift.
However small it was, it was the only weapon I could wield in the hope that we are defending ourselves.