05/29/2020 / By Franz Walker
A volunteer who participated in clinical trials for Moderna Therapeutics’ Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine says he suffered serious side effects during the testing stage. However, Ian Haydon says that he doesn’t regret it and still wants people to get the vaccine when it’s available.
Despite experiencing these side effects, Haydon remains an advocate of the vaccine. The 29-year old Seattle native had previously spoken about the vaccine on CNN and CNBC, stating that he’d even volunteer to be exposed to SARS-CoV-2 – the pathogen behind the pandemic – if researchers want to see if the vaccine is actually effective.
But Haydon also admitted to STAT News that he wanted to speak up about his negative experiences as a counterbalance to the desperation that some feel to push a vaccine to market regardless of the consequences.
“As we rush to get a vaccine developed as quickly as possible, the reality of vaccine development is that it can only be rushed so much and the trial still needs to take place,” Haydon said.
“And stories like what happened to me, they matter because they shape the approval process,” he added.
As Haydon pointed out to STAT News, the whole purpose of the study he was a part of — known as a Phase 1 clinical trial — was to be able to find the right dose of the vaccine moving forward. A proper dosage of the vaccine would allow immune cells to produce antibodies with the least amount of side effects in the body.
In Moderna’s 45-person study, four participants, including Haydon, experienced what are known as “Grade 3” adverse events. These are side effects that are severe or medically significant but not immediately life-threatening. Neither the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is running the trial, nor Moderna has previously detailed the nature of these incidents.
Moderna, however, did disclose that three participants – likely including Haydon – received the highest dose of the vaccine candidate that was tested and had reactions involving their entire bodies. A fourth participant received a lower dose and experienced a rash at the injection site.
According to Haydon, when he was given the first dose, he experienced slight arm pain and had trouble lifting his limb beyond his shoulder, but he recovered within a few days.
Haydon experienced arm pain again after getting the second dose. Prior to taking this, he admitted to being nervous, as he knew that second doses were given to increase the immune system’s response, which made him worry if he would have more side effects.
Those side effects started ten hours after arriving home when Haydon experienced chills and woke up with a fever. As his temperature shot up as high as 103.2 F, he reported feeling sore and wanting to throw up.
His girlfriend called the 24-hour hotline that had been given to them by Kaiser Permanente, where she was told to take him to urgent care. They arrived at 5 a.m. and stayed for about an hour. Here, Haydon was given a painkiller, and doctors recommended he stay at a nearby hospital, but he wanted to go home.
After five hours of sleep, Haydon woke up with a 101.5 F fever. He later vomited and fainted when he went to the bathroom.
Upon calling the clinic, his girlfriend was told to bring Haydon to urgent care again. However, after a few hours of lying on the couch, drinking sports drinks and placing a wet towel on his forehead as a cold compress, Haydon’s fever broke. Within a few days, he felt like he was back to normal.
Haydon says he doesn’t regret the experience, nor does he fear suffering from any long-term complications from it. (Related: Prestigious vaccine journal: Flu vaccine increases coronavirus infection risk 36%.)
Given what’s at stake with the COVID-19 vaccine, the side effects that Haydon experienced would likely be seen as acceptable, as they were only seen at high doses that aren’t being taken forward in succeeding tests.
That said, it’s also not clear what will happen as the vaccine moves forward into larger studies.
“Humans have a very diverse immune system,” stated Larry Schlesinger, the president and CEO of the nonprofit Texas Biomedical Research Institute. “And then you add on top of that diabetes or, you know, age 70 and you can imagine that the immune response will be very, very different.”
According to Schlesinger, the difficulty lies in the fact that, right now, we’re only getting “tidbits” of new information about the vaccine.
“Tidbits of science are always dangerous for the public to read because they give a false understanding, or a false sense of security, that we’re making progress or not,” Schlesinger said. “And then tomorrow we hear something completely opposite. And before you know it, the credibility of the scientific process is undermined and people stop listening.”
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