STOCKBRIDGE, Ga. — I’m not a big fan of mornings, but to keep our vaccine trial appointments from interrupting work, we schedule them early. There’s definitely a time commitment. The drive itself from our house is about 45 minutes and the appointments, so far, have each lasted about two hours.
Ask my husband about the trial so far and he’ll say, “We’ve gotten to give a lot of blood and make a lot of visit to the clinic, which is quite far from where we live.”
My husband, Stephan, is a chemist. It’s his curiosity and faith in the science that led us to sign up for the Novavax vaccine trial.
The data from the vaccine maker’s U.K. study is currently under review in that country and hopes the U.S. will use that same data to approve FDA emergency use here by May.
According to Novavax, the vaccine had a 89% efficacy rate in the UK, even when confronted with the more deadly, contagious strain.
Like Moderna and Pfizer, Novavax takes two injections. We have no idea if we got the placebo or the real thing, but so far we’ve had no real side effects. The principal investigator on our study through Clinical Research Atlanta says with this vaccine, that’s been pretty common.
But after getting our shots, we still filled out a survey each night on our phone for a week, and we have to keep taking our temperature every day, for a year.
It’s not always easy to remember.
“Bad,” Stephan said with a heavy sigh when I asked him how he’s doing with his temperature checks. “In other words, I forget every four or five days.”
I just ended up putting it on my work desk, so I would see it all day. When I closed down my computer, I take my temperature. My husband tried the same trick, but since he’s a night owl, sometimes he doesn’t turn off his computer until after midnight. By then the survey has already timed out.
We all want the vaccine that works best, but public health microbiologist Amber Schmidtke said right now, the best one is the one you can get.
“I think the thing that we all care about most is, does it keep people from dying and does it keep people from needing a hospital bed,” Schmidtke said.
For that, Doctor Schmidtke said the vaccines all work the same.
It’s challenging to compare much more than that because the vaccines were tested at different times, with different strains in the community, and with different definitions for success. But even the vaccine with the lowest efficacy will minimize the severity, should you get sick.
“You know, we don’t close schools because of the common cold. So, if we can bring COVID-19 down to something like the common cold, we start to see normal a lot faster,” she added.
We don’t know yet if any of the vaccines will prevent COVID’s long term side effects, but the more people that get the vaccine, the less opportunity the virus has to spread.
But there are still two big questions: can someone with the vaccine spread COVID-19 if they’re asymptomatic, and how long will protection last?
The CDC says preliminary data has given it more confidence that the risk of asymptomatic spread is low enough to update its guidance on what fully vaccinated people can do. It now says they can visit indoors with other fully vaccinated people or those with low risk for severe disease - without wearing a mask.
To keep adding to that wealth of data and answering the unknown, volunteers in trials like ours will keep coming back and keep giving blood to check antibody levels for the next two years.
“This is an evolving disease. What they’re trying to figure out is what kind of immune response your body has actually developed,” Stephan said.
What that really means for me, is more sunrises on I-75 hanging with my hubby in the car.