Pfizer vaccine-trial participant reveals what it's like to volunteer for research that helped create the first effective COVID-19 vaccine

Pfizer vaccine-trial participant reveals what it's like to volunteer for research that helped create the first effective COVID-19 vaccine
Jenny Hamilton said she didn't think twice about getting involved in the trial.Jenny Hamilton
  • Jenny Hamilton is a 57-year-old former police officer who now works in location security for the film industry and lives in Atlanta.
  • She's a participant in the Pfizer vaccine trial, which recently announced that it developed the first effective coronavirus vaccine in record time and just filed for emergency authorization with the FDA.
  • Hamilton wasn't told whether she received the vaccine or a placebo, but after receiving the first two injections, she experienced what felt like a cold — low-grade fevers, fatigue, and muscle aches.
  • "I'm excited that others will be able to have some protection," Hamilton told Business Insider.
  • This is what her experience has been like, as told to Lauren Lee.

My family member is a nurse who got COVID-19 in probably early-to-mid May. We kind of expected it because they visit a lot of people in assisted-living facilities and nursing homes, so we figured they were waiting for the shoe to drop.

It was very sobering for us as a family. They ended up getting a mild form, which was lucky for us. They have a couple of other preexisting conditions that put them at higher risk for a more serious outcome.

Since we were exposed in January, I've always viewed the pandemic as a once-in-a-century pandemic.

I'd been thinking about what I could do to help, even though I'm basically a walking high-risk category for COVID-19. I have asthma and Hashimoto's, an autoimmune condition.
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I was actively seeking to become part of this. First and foremost, it's a monumental opportunity to be able to help your fellow citizens and be able to be in a position to further a therapeutic or vaccine that will keep people from dying. I really didn't think twice about it. It was something I sought after, and I did it mainly because my family members are nurses.

They didn't make it easy. I looked for information on where the trials were being conducted and waited for details to come out on how I could sign up for a trial. I had heard other people signed up to participate, and I wanted to know where they were getting that information.

There are three facilities in the Atlanta area that are doing the study. I'm part of the one by the Clinical Research Atlanta in Stockbridge, Georgia.
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Read more: How the pharma giant Pfizer teamed up with a little-known biotech to develop an effective coronavirus vaccine in record time

I finally went to their website and filled out a small survey. I was called the next day.

I was finally accepted into the trial in mid-August.

I'm taking part in the Pfizer trial, where we get two doses.
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They asked me a bunch of questions and tested me for COVID-19 as part of the test. They drew blood and they gave me the first injection. At that point, I didn't know if I was getting the placebo or vaccine, but that night, I started getting really tired. The next day I was really exhausted, and then I started having a fever. My temperature was 99, almost 100 degrees for two and a half to three days. (Editor's note: Hamilton was not told whether she got a working shot or the placebo. She said she thinks she got the vaccine, because of her body's reaction to the injections.)

After the first injection, I waited three weeks and got another injection in the beginning of September. It was the same scenario — I was really tired the next day. It was a little more severe, where I didn't even feel like getting up to fix something to eat. I just laid in bed and slept most of the day and still had a low-grade fever for two or three days as well.

After that, I'm fine. I'm in the third phase of the study. I got the blood draw a month after I did the last injection and will get another blood draw in March to determine if I have antibodies — or different responses with platelets and white blood cells — and what my body's response is.
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They request for you to fill out a diary.

Every time you get an injection, you're supposed to detail in your responses of what your side effects are for seven days: what your temperature is, aches, pains, and, on a scale, how severe they are.

Read more: Biotech execs hunting for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments have raked in more than $1 billion by selling company stock this year. Here are the 27 leaders who've cashed in the most.

If you got more than moderate on any of the questions you have, a study coordinator would reach out.
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For example, one of my questions was about tiredness. When I put "severe" on tiredness, the study coordinator texted me soon after and wanted to get an idea of how I was doing. The same thing happened when my temperature was elevated for a longer period of time after the second injection.

She basically said the side effects for this particular vaccine were usually more severe with the second injection than the first, so this was normal.

They're very good about following up with you.

It'll prompt you with certain entries in your diary to call your study coordinator. She calls right away, wants to make sure you're OK, and determines how severe your reactions are.
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Those are the kinds of things I found comforting.

Other than that, they don't really talk to you. They just say if you feel bad, you can call at any time. Or if you feel like you want to withdraw from the study, you can call immediately and they'll talk you through that. They try to mitigate situations where someone is feeling scared or anxious. I've never felt any of that because this situation was like having a slight cold.
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Even though I'm in the last phase, the study is going to last for 2 years.

I'll have to fill out a diary once a week at least for two years. They want you to fill out a diary to see if you have any symptoms or feel like you've gotten COVID-19. If you do, they give you a test to do a nasal swab and pick it up.

The way they were explaining to me, the last blood draw they'll do is in March.
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Read more: Read a timeline of when Pfizer's new coronavirus vaccine could reach ordinary people — a process likely to take months.)

Even though it feels like I have another layer of protection, I still wear my mask. I'm actually careful. I have gone out to eat occasionally, but since the whole pandemic, it's made my perception change. I look down on restaurants that don't enforce mask-wearing and social distancing. I make sure I'm socially distancing myself in places.

It's wonderful that it looks like the trial is getting close to producing a successful candidate for the vaccine. I'm excited that others will be able to have some protection.
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The thoughts expressed are those of the subject's. Her participation in the trial was confirmed by Business Insider.
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