AFP, published on Tuesday November 17, 2020 at 8:53 p.m.
One of the crucial elements in the frantic race for a vaccine against the coronavirus is the recruitment of tens of thousands of people ready to participate in clinical trials. AFP Miami correspondent Leila Macor is one of them.
Leila took part in phase 3 trials of Moderna, the American biotech company which announced Monday that its experimental vaccine against Covid-19 was almost 95% effective.
Why did our journalist, who is asthmatic, decide to go for it? Here she recounts in first person her experience, which began a few weeks after her father succumbed to the virus.
– A story in two doses –
My father died of Covid in Chile, three weeks before the start of clinical trials with Pfizer and Moderna at the end of July.
He died alone, as do people who succumb to this virus. So alone that in his delirium, he was convinced he had been kidnapped.
As my brothers, mother and I tried to cope with the loss, I had to face another reality: Miami, and Florida in general, was the new epicenter of the virus that killed my father. And my job was also to cover this story and the other deaths.
The idea of doing anything, however small, to help overcome this plague that was killing our people and turning our lives upside down was cathartic enough that I tried.
I told friends and relatives about it. They all helped me to conclude that the risk of a potential side effect of a vaccine for an asthmatic like me would be less than the risk of me getting sick from the virus.
And I decided to participate.
Two days after writing a story for AFP about the start of phase 3 clinical trials in Florida, I knocked on the centre’s door again, but this time as an object of study.
– Vaccine or placebo? –
The Research Centers of America in Hollywood (north of Miami) were participating in the Pfizer and Moderna trials. One day one, one day the other. I went there on a Tuesday: it was Moderna.
At the same time, dozens of other centers in the country were also recruiting volunteers. Anyone could stand as a candidate, as long as their probabilities of being infected were high: doctors, taxi drivers … journalists.
I was put a sticker with my name on it and taken to an office, where I was told what I would read later in a 22-page document. That there were two doses. That we would be paid $ 2,400 over the two-year trial.
I was told what side effects to expect (pain where I would receive the injection, fever, chills). That we were 30,000, divided into two groups: one half would receive the vaccine, the other a placebo.
“Even we don’t know which is which,” the nurse told me when I tried to find out if I was going to get a placebo. Only Moderna will know when it comes time to analyze the data.
“What if I get tested for antibodies?” I asked.
This will not necessarily give a correct result, she replied.
“The uncertainty is going to kill me!” I exclaimed.
The nurse then looked up, telling me very seriously, “Placebos are as important as vaccines. Cannot do the test without the control group. You are helping mankind no matter what.” your group.
I felt guilty obsessing over it, and stopped asking the question.
– Ordinary Tuesday –
I was also taken blood samples to fill six or eight tubes, I lost count. I was given a pregnancy test. And they were very firm on the necessary intake of contraceptives: “We do not yet know the effect of the vaccine on the fetus”, I was told repeatedly.
Then two people came with the vaccine in a cooler. Or the placebo, then.
They laughed when I asked them to let me take a picture of the injection.
What for me was a historic moment was for them just an ordinary Tuesday.
It wasn’t painful. I was then taken to a waiting room, where I was kept under observation for half an hour. Three or four volunteers were looking at their phones. A Cuban nurse wore a cape, Superman’s red cape.
“Why the cloak?” I asked him.
“Because here we are all heroes, darling,” she told me.
I was given several stickers, a t-shirt and a mask, all with the message “Covid Warriors” and a design showing a superhero fighting the virus.
I was also made to download an app designed for the study, where I occasionally need to fill in my temperature and symptoms.
When I got home, the injection site hurt a bit. Had I actually been given the vaccine? I spent the next three days looking on the internet to see if an injection of physiological saline (from which the placebo is made) could cause pain. Without finding a clear answer.
The second dose was given to me a month later, in mid-September. The pain was more severe this time, and for two days the injection site remained hot and swollen.
A few days later, I realized that participating in the clinical trial had been a way of grieving for me. For my father and for the crazy world the virus left us.
As small as it was, it was the only weapon I could wield.