In this Monday, July 27, 2020 photo, a nurse prepares a shot as a study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway in Binghamton, N.Y. Microsoft says state-backed Russian and North Korean hackers have in recent months tried to steal valuable data from leading pharmaceutical companies and COVID-19 vaccine researchers.

My friend Deb took part in the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine trial. A two-time cancer survivor and a woman of a certain age, Deb fits the profile of someone a pharmaceutical company would recruit as a human guinea pig. In fact, because of this, she has participated in previous drug trials. This one, though, was different.

A Georgia resident, Deb said once Gov. Brian Kemp opened up the bowling alleys and hair salons in the middle of a pandemic, she knew she had to do something. So she volunteered for the trial.

She never thought twice about volunteering. “There are so many advancements in medicine that would not have happened if people didn't trust science,” she said. “We'd all be walking around worried about Polio today.”

Speaking of walking... every day Deb would walk her little dog and they would pass a building being used as a temporary hospital for the overflow for COVID-19 patients. She would see the doctors and nurses changing shifts. One nurse – a fellow dog-lover – looked for Deb and Giz every morning.

“I’m praying for you,” Deb would tell her. But she was doing more than that.

She was going to the clinic for an initial three-hour physical, where they took all kinds of information and eight vials of blood. She was undergoing regular nasal swabs and noting any symptoms (more on that later). She keeps a weekly health diary and will be monitored for two and a half years.

That is not out of the norm for drug trials, but this was the first one she’d participated in where lives were literally on the line. It was also the first one she’d done that could have an immediate impact on her daughter, a traveling nurse who cared for COVID-19 patients in packed hospitals.

Deb worried about her daughter catching the virus. Since March, she’s only seen her twice – both times from a distance. Helping to find a vaccine for the virus was something Deb could do to help her daughter.

Another difference in this trial was the science. The Moderna vaccine – like the Pfizer one – does not use the actual virus. Instead, they use messenger RNA – laboratory-created genetic strands that trigger the immune system to make antibodies.

Half of the 30,000 study participants received the vaccine and the other received placebos. Deb won’t know until later if she received the placebo or vaccine, but all signs point to her receiving the vaccine. Almost immediately after receiving the first shot, she experienced a headache, which was followed by a slight shortness of breath, an occasional cough and sore throat.

“The worst side effect was the brain fog,” said Deb. “I would forget what I was saying mid-sentence. These side effects lasted two days at the most.” She said her reaction was beyond what was “usual” for the vaccine.

A month later, she received the second shot and experienced fatigue for a day and soreness around the injection site, a common reaction according to the drug maker.

Now that approval of the vaccine is imminent, Deb hopes people will get the shots. She points to the speed at which the vaccine was developed as an indication of how dangerous COVID-19 is.

“I'm very sure that I would rather trust the vaccine than take my chances out in a world where people are dying and the virus runs rampant,” she said.

Amy Henderson can be reached at 256-734-2131 Ext. 216.

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