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Man tests new Moderna COVID-19 vaccine booster designed to protect against variant

He received 50-50 mix of original vaccine and a new formulation designed to target South African variant.
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/ Source: TODAY

Ian Haydon was one of the first people on the planet to try the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and he’s now among volunteers who’ve been vaccinated longer than anybody else.

But after taking part in the phase one trial of the two-stage shot a year ago, he’s not done yet.

Haydon, 30, just received his third shot of a Moderna inoculation as part of a new trial evaluating both a booster and a vaccine to protect against the South African coronavirus variant.

"With this booster, I think I probably have a topped up level of immunity," Ian Haydon said.Courtesy Ian Haydon

“I've noticed that a lot of people's initial reaction to hearing about a booster trial taking place is they're sort of dismayed and they assume that means that they're going to need to take booster shots or we're going to be taking these things for the rest of our lives,” Haydon, who lives in Seattle, told TODAY.

“It's important to mention that these trials are happening now before we even know if a booster vaccine is going to be needed. We're basically getting the safety testing out of the way in case we need that.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci shared a similar message last month, noting in a statement that the National Institutes of Health began testing the new formulation from Moderna "out of an abundance of caution… should there be a need for an updated vaccine.”

Haydon recalled being surprised when he was contacted by the clinic where he enrolled in the initial trial about signing up for another one, but said he was eager to do it again.

On April 1, he was injected with a formulation that’s a lower dose of vaccine overall than what’s currently in each Moderna shot: 50 micrograms of mRNA rather than 100 micrograms. Besides being half as much vaccine as the standard shot, the single injection Haydon received is a 50-50 mix of the original Moderna vaccine and the reformulated vaccine meant to address B.1.351, the South African variant.

The trial has a total of 210 volunteers — including some who've not yet received any COVID-19 shot — divided into several cohorts testing different formulations. Researchers want to test the safety of the vaccine, how people’s immune systems respond and what side effects come up.

Haydon explained what comes next:

Did you get any side effects after the newest shot?

The side effects appear very similar to what a lot of people are getting for their second doses. I ended up with a low-grade fever, a little bit of chills, some muscle aches and I felt fatigued. It was pretty mild and lasted about 24 hours.

It was easier for me this time because when I got my second shot, I was trialing a really high experimental dose of the vaccine and ended up having pretty significant side effects. Compared to that high dose reaction, the booster side effects for me were much more mild.

What kind of monitoring will you get?

I'm basically repeating what I did last year. For the first several days after receiving the shot, I'm keeping a record of my temperature every day and I'm also recording any side effects. I'll do phone check-ins with the clinic.

After two weeks, I'll go in for my first blood draw so they can look at what's happening, and then I'll continue to do blood draws periodically for another year. I'll be monitored for any changes in my health for that year as well.

Will you keep going if asked to try another shot?

Yes. If you want to measure vaccine durability, then the people who got the shot the earliest are your best opportunity to do that. That will still be true for year two and beyond, so if it's useful for the researchers to know more information, then I'd be happy to participate.

You're one of the first people to ever receive a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. What has the last year been like for you?

Health wise, I’m absolutely fine. Aside from those side effects that occurred right after I got the second shot, I've had no health issues at all to report, so I feel fine. I’ve never had COVID-19.

A lot of people might assume that if I've been vaccinated for a year, then I've maybe skipped the pandemic, but that's definitely not the case. I still wear a mask whenever I go out. I'm still working from home. I socially distance as much as I can.

When I was in the initial vaccine trial, we had no idea whether or not the Moderna vaccine worked at all. So for most of 2020, there was no reason for me to assume I was immune.

When we did find out that the vaccine was working, it had already been many months since I had gotten the shots. Right away, my thinking went to “How long does the protection last?” If it was only, say, six months, then I may have already passed through that window, so there really was no time in the last year where I was walking around and assuming that I was an immunized protected person.

With this booster, I think I probably have a topped up level of immunity. Now I'm facing what I think a lot of newly vaccinated people are, which is that we still live in a world where most of the people you're going to run into are not vaccinated. I'm not living a post-pandemic lifestyle, although the vaccine rollout is going well and we may not be too far away from that.

How do you feel as a vaccine pioneer?

It didn't hit me emotionally until I started seeing people receiving the vaccine and posting their vaccine selfies.

It was pretty remarkable to go from a person in an experiment to seeing doctors, nurses, politicians and world leaders saying, “I just got the Moderna shot” and realizing that was the same vaccine that I had been testing all this time. That has been cool to experience.

This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.