I love vaccines.
As a certified trypanophobic, that might seem a funny thing to say. I’ll admit that I don’t particularly love the actual process of receiving a vaccine, bringing me back as it does to being fourteen years old and fainting on the floor of the school hall after the DTP. No, what I love about vaccines is essentially everything else. The enormous benefit to human health, obviously. The inherent collectivism. The pure triumph of human innovation and collaboration over adversity. We’re very close to completely eradicating polio, thanks to a targeted vaccination effort. Any day now, we’ll have globally eliminated a disease that used to kill thousands annually. Isn’t that just the coolest thing?
And now, obviously, there’s a whole other level to my love. The UK is currently leading the global COVID-19 vaccination effort. Vaccines are going to end the pandemic, less than a year after the first case. That, needless to say, is record time.
There are a lot of reasons (some outlined in my article from a few weeks ago) that the vaccine effort has been able to proceed so quickly, but probably the principle one is that funding and volunteers have been in adequate supply. That’s unusual, and I don’t think it should be. And so, a few weeks ago, I finally decided to put my money where my mouth is, and signed up for the Novavax Stage III vaccine trial. I had my first appointment at the clinic in Hexham a few weeks ago.
Prior to my appointment, I’d filled in a few forms online – mostly about my medical history, as there are many seemingly minor ailments that can disqualify you from participating in a vaccine trial – and had a number of phone calls with the clinic. I travelled to the appointment by train via Newcastle; the trial I participated in wasn’t paid, but they will reimburse expenses. A short walk from the station to Hexham General Hospital and a few forms later, I sat down in the (surprisingly busy) reception area and waited.
And waited. And waited.
One hour and forty minutes later, I was retrieved by one of the doctors, and taken into a side room in order to, you guessed it, fill in more forms. I’d received and read a lot of information about the trial by email a few days before my appointment, so this was relatively speedy. I returned to my now-familiar reception seat.
Approximately thirty minutes later, I was retrieved again, this time by a nurse. She measured my height, weight and blood pressure, had me do both a covid swab and a pregnancy test, and took my blood. She handed me effectively the medical equivalent of a child’s party bag, containing a few more post-back covid tests (in case I develop symptoms in the coming weeks or months), a thermometer, a ruler to measure site reactions, and some copies of my many forms.
More waiting. I registered my covid test (it was negative, for the record), signed up for the app the trial uses to track symptoms, ate a few free biscuits, and booked my following two appointments with the receptionist. This trial involves six appointments over the next year – the next two are in quick succession, in order to give you the second dose of the vaccine and then to follow-up.
By this point, I was really getting tired of the waiting room. My appointment was at 1pm; it was now almost four hours later, I hadn’t even received the vaccine yet, and I really wanted to go home. At about 5pm, I was called in again by the doctor. I’ve got to say, there was very little preamble. For all the many hours I was at the clinic, the actual administration of the vaccine took about ten seconds. The doctor did, at least, call me a cab afterwards (that wasn’t a joke – she literally called me a taxi back to Durham because it was late).
And that was that. My arm hurt for a few days, but other than that I haven’t had any reactions. I don’t know whether the injection I received was the actual vaccine or the placebo; I may not ever know, unless it becomes medically pertinent. The experience, as most things in 2020, was very boring. Unlike many other things in 2020, that was all it was: not sad or painful or embarrassing. We have, most of us, youth and health, and that’s powerful. Participating in a vaccine trial is a small, boring, insignificant, monumental way to help. I’d recommend it wholeheartedly.