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What it's like to be injected with an experimental COVID-19 vaccine

"It’s absolutely critical that people in good health step up and voluntarily participate in these clinical trials," he says.
Ian Haydon will be monitored over the next 14 months.
Ian Haydon will be monitored over the next 14 months.Courtesy Ian Haydon
/ Source: TODAY

Ian Haydon, 29, is among subjects trying out the first COVID-19 vaccine to be tested in humans. He was injected on April 8 — the first of two shots he’ll receive one month apart. The Seattle resident, who works as a public information specialist at the University of Washington, shared what it’s like to take part in the trial with TODAY.

I feel more like a human clinical trial volunteer than a guinea pig. Testing new drugs in people is a normal part in a clinical pipeline.

This whole experience has made me realize how fortunate I am to be in good health, and clinical trials need healthy volunteers. So the idea of being able to help in this way seems like obviously the right thing to do. I really didn’t have any hesitation.

My friends and family all seemed pretty excited. There are only 45 people in this trial and I know that thousands of people volunteered, so I consider myself lucky for having gotten in. My mother was a little bit concerned, understandably, for a little while. I reached out to her and we talked on the phone several times about this. I think she’s now much less concerned.

I first learned about the trial from a colleague who posted about it on Slack. He said, “Hey, Seattle is looking for volunteers for this study. If you’ve heard these optimistic timelines about a vaccine possibly being ready in as little as a year, this is the vaccine study those people are referring to.” I filled out that form on March 5 and was told I could be admitted into the trial on March 26.

I had a physical and received a 20-page consent form, which I was asked to read from top to bottom. It explained what the vaccine is, how the technology may work, the fact that it’s not guaranteed to work and that being in this trial comes with certain risks.

A very small number of people who receive almost any kind of injection can suffer anaphylactic shock or some severe reaction immediately after.

Also, this is a new virus and a new vaccine, and nobody really knows how either of those things are going to interact with the immune system. That’s why they’re drawing my blood for the duration of the study and checking to see that I remain in good health and how my immune system responds — both whether it’s producing antibodies against the virus, which is the ultimate goal, and whether all my immune cells remain normal.

All vaccines try to train the immune system to look out for a pathogen before it makes you sick, in this case the coronavirus. But I’m not being injected with a weakened version of the virus or even a protein from the virus.

Instead, this vaccine contains a tiny piece of the genetic code from the virus, molecules called mRNA — or messenger RNA. So if this vaccine works, the idea is that some of my cells will take in that code and then temporarily begin producing one of the proteins from the virus. It’s those proteins that my immune system might have a reaction to — might make antibodies against that protein.

It’s not known whether that mRNA technology is going to work in this case. It’s a relatively new way of trying to make a vaccine. It’s very quick to manufacture, which is why this is the first coronavirus vaccine being tried in humans, but it’s certainly experimental.

Ian Haydon is testing the coronavirus vaccine
Haydon received the first dose of the vaccine on April 8. He'll get another shot a month later.Courtesy Ian Haydon

When I received my first shot on April 8, I had to wear a mask the whole time and everybody there was wearing masks, but otherwise it was pretty normal. The shot was basically just like a flu shot — it went into my left shoulder. It didn’t hurt at all when I got it. I had to do a blood draw immediately before receiving the injection and that’s what they’re going to compare my blood to going forward, looking for changes.

The appointment took three hours in total and that included staying at the clinic for an hour after receiving the injection to make sure I didn't have any immediate negative reactions.

Ian Haydon is testing the coronavirus vaccine
A syringe is filled with the experimental coronavirus vaccine that Haydon received.Courtesy Ian Haydon

So far, I’m fine. I feel great, I feel totally normal. The only symptom I had at all was that my shoulder where I got the injection was a little sore, which is pretty normal for getting any kind of vaccine. It feels like I took a good punch in the arm.

They sent me home with a little health diary. I’m supposed to log any symptoms that might come up over the next several days, like fatigue or headache, and take my temperature.

They also gave me a couple of different phone lines I can call, including a 24-hour nurse hotline in case I’m feeling any symptoms. I’m supposed to go to the emergency room if anything severe starts happening.

I’m going for a check-in on April 15. In total, I'll come back to the clinic 10 more times over the next 14 months. I was asked to make sure I don’t come into contact with anybody who is known to be infected with COVID-19, but beyond that, I’m expected to follow the stay-at-home rules I have been following in Washington.

This is just the first of many experimental vaccines that are going to be tested in humans and those trials are going to take place all over the world. For those vaccines to ever arrive, it’s absolutely critical that people in good health step up and voluntarily participate in these clinical trials.

So I hope I’m just one of a new group of people who are going to do that and through doing that, we may arrive at a vaccine.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.