Novavax

by Jonah

My phone’s web browser Chrome likes to show me news stories it thinks I’d be interested in reading (it’s convinced I’m obsessed with Star Wars, The Expanse, Phoebe Bridgers, and asteroids, so what’s what most of the articles are about). Day before yesterday it popped up an article from KRDO saying that phase three trials were being conducted in Colorado Springs for a new COVID-19 vaccine.

So I Googled the name of the company Novavax and Colorado Springs, and the website that popped up offered to let me take a survey to see if I were eligible to participate. For this particular trial they only want participants who meet certain criteria of having a greater risk of becoming infected with COVID-19. Examples include:

Racial minority (nope)

Live in crowded conditions such as shared housing (nope)

Be an essential worker in close contact with the public or other workers (not really)

Are 65 or older (not yet)

Have underlying medical conditions

I checked the list of underlying medical conditions, since I’m pretty healthy. Turns out one of the conditions is being FAT!

At the end of the survey, it said that I appeared to qualify and to call a number with a (405) area code.

The next morning at 8 a.m. I called the number. The woman who answered asked me the same questions that I had answered in the online questionnaire and told me that I qualified for the trial. “Can you come in tomorrow?” “What time?” I answered. She said 11 a.m. and gave me the address. I asked what the sign on the door said, and she paused and answered, “I’m sorry, I don’t know. I’m in Oklahoma City.” I guess I didn’t have to wait until 8 a.m. to call.

This morning I showed up at a doctor’s office at 11 a.m. I had to fill out a bunch of paperwork, then I was ushered into an exam room. For the next two hours, a stream of different people came in to ask me detailed questions about my medical history, perform a physical exam, request urine, measure my height, take my weight, take my blood pressure, take my blood, and finally administer an injection.

A woman in blue scrubs came in. “Hi, I’m Bobbie!” she greeted me. She asked me which arm I wanted the injection. I chose my right arm, and she said my second injection in three weeks would be in my opposite arm. “You are participant number 25,” she said, reading from my chart. Then she uncapped a syringe holding what appeared to be filled with a substance that I can only describe to be a florescent shade of navy blue. It reminded me of the protomolecule from The Expanse (maybe I am obsessed after all). She swabbed my right upper arm just below my shoulder and gave me a quick jab. I hardly felt anything at all.

This vaccine trial uses a lab engineered spike protein to try to teach your body that spike proteins like the one in SARS-COV-2 are bad. 2/3rds of the participants are given the vaccine, and 1/3rd are given a placebo of saline. I got paid $150 for my visit today, and I get more money for each additional visit (one in three weeks for my second injection, one a week after that, and then once every six months for the next two years). Well, at least I got a gift card that I was told money would be added to.

At this point, I finally got to leave my personal exam room and was taken to the clinic’s break room where a clinic worker was sitting with a laptop on one side of a conference table and a stylishly dressed middle aged black woman was sitting on the other side. I took a seat as well, and the clinic worker instructed me to download an app onto my phone called Patient Cloud and register an account and read the instructions in the app. This was tricky, because right then the clinic worker started recounting a hilarious TikTok video to the other trial participant with scene by scene detail while I was trying to read some very dry instructions.

“My arm stings!” I exclaimed, interrupting the TikTok recantation. “How badly does it hurt?” asked the clinic worker, clinically, suddenly typing into her laptop. I glanced at the other trial participant to see if any sign of agreement appeared in her eyes, but she just continued to sit there pleasantly. “It only stings a little,” I answered. A bit later I added, “My muscle hurts!” “How badly does it hurt?” asked the clinic worker again. “Just a little,” I answered.

The clinic worker took the blood pressure of the other trial participant and then told her she had not had an adverse reaction to her injection in the last 30 minutes so she was free to go. Then the clinic worker made sure I had completed my first two surveys on the downloaded app. She gave me a thermometer and a ruler and told me to take my temperature and measure any rash that may appear at my injection site and record the results once a day in the app. She took my temperature and blood pressure again and then, satisfied with the results, told me that I could leave.

This particular vaccine is probably not as effective as the Pfizer of Moderna vaccines. On the other hand, it only has to be refrigerated, not kept at super cold temperatures. At this point I think I probably got the vaccine instead of the placebo, but I don’t know when they’ll tell me. Supposedly, according to Colorado vaccine plan, I get to be in phase 2 if I did get the placebo (though it is unclear if I’m an essential enough worker to be there anyway).

Tonight my right upper arm hurts, like when I get a flu shot, except worse. Not enough to bother me, just enough to notice.

I have never been so excited to have a sore arm.

(No, Bobbie didn’t have a New Zealander accent.)

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