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Journalist John Yang volunteered to participate in a clinical trial of Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine not for “major altruistic reasons” but because he wanted to get a vaccine sooner rather than later.
“It started out of self-interest – I wanted the vaccine faster,” Yang, special correspondent for PBS NewsHour, told NPR’s All things Considered. “So when I found out it was the Moderna trial, a new technology, one that has never before been approved for a human vaccine, I got a little excited. That kind of teased the nerd of science in me. ”
There are currently two COVID-19 vaccines that appear to be extremely effective and are awaiting approval from the Food and Drug Administration. The first was created by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer and its partner BioNTech, has reported to be 95% effective. The second vaccine was created by the biotech company Moderna Inc. and is 94.5% effective according to an analysis of its clinical trials. It was the one Yang attended at George Washington University in Washington, DC. He recently wrote about his experience for STAT.
Yang writes that he was also attracted to vaccine trials to participate in because he is considered at high risk of getting a severe case of COVID-19: he is over 60, has asthma and high blood pressure. He is also Asian.
“I think my ethnicity was a big plus because they really want to extend these tests to have participants of color, and they also wanted to find out if it was safe for people with asthma and people with high blood pressure,” says he NPR.
Yang reports that there were two shots a month apart, and he says the first one “really wasn’t that bad.” He did not feel any of the effects until the next day, when he began to experience mild sore joints and muscles, saying “fatigue was the main problem.”
“The second shot put me really low and very fast,” he tells NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly, explaining that he experienced muscle and joint pain and low fever, which came faster than the first shot., all in accordance with adverse reactions reported by NPR. Other participants also reported pain at the injection site. “But when it came faster, it also resolved faster. I got the shot Tuesday. By Thursday, I was fine.”
With the trial, Yang says he had a 50% chance of getting the vaccine – a result he really wanted – and a 50% chance of getting a placebo. So when he started feeling side effects, he was actually happy.
“The first day I was a little disappointed when I went to bed that I was still feeling good and woke up the next morning, happy to be feeling bad, like a child hoping to get out of school,” he says. “I was happy to feel the side effects began.”
While he does not know for sure whether he received the vaccine or placebo, he wrote in STAT that he hopes that it was the vaccine that was injected into the arm – not just saline solution. He said he is excited about the prospect that Moderna may also offer the vaccine to the placebo group now that the results of the study were so promising.
He told NPR that he is happy that he “was able to help this help with science move forward. And I hope, too, help get to grips with this pandemic.”
This comes as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the United States On Wednesday, the nation crossed a devastating threshold: 250,000 people have now died from the virus.
Gustavo Conteras and Justine Kenin produced and edited the audio version of this story.