Fog began to condense on the lenses of my glasses as I sat in the hospital’s patient reception department. A few minutes ago, I was running down the streets late, as doctors and nurses slowed down on their way to the hospital, and I knew I didn’t look well.
And I remember the last time I visited St. George’s Hospital in south London was the day my daughter was born, but today this hospital looked completely different. The smell of chlorine solution was so strong that it penetrated the mask on my face, and the seat next to me was closed with adhesive tape so that no one would sit on it.
Two of the medical personnel approached the muzzle and operating theater clothes, one of whom was holding a sign similar to the sign of taxi drivers, which read “Test vaccine”.
I walked behind slowly, keeping the distance of two meters. Today, I will undergo preliminary checks by doctors on volunteers in an Oxford University trial to test a new vaccine against the Corona virus, and in the coming weeks I will have the opportunity to participate in one of the most promising global efforts to combat the Corona epidemic. Oxford University experiences are at the forefront of global efforts to develop vaccines around the world.
On July 20, the researchers announced very promising initial results after the vaccine was tested on 1,077 volunteers, indicating that the vaccine is safe and elicits an immune response. Sarah Gilbert, of Oxford University, issued a statement saying, “The road ahead is still long, but the initial results are promising.”
The next step involves extending the experiment to thousands of volunteers from the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa, and volunteers will receive larger doses of the vaccine. I was one of those volunteers at this point in the clinical trials to test the effectiveness of the vaccine.
My journey started with a vaccine experiment last May when I read a tweet by a Oxford University philosophy researcher about vaccine research that I had heard about the rapid progress I had made. This researcher announced that he would volunteer in clinical trials, and decided immediately to fill out the volunteer form on the Oxford University website.
Weeks later, I now sit in one of the hospital departments devoted to Oxford experiments, and I see on one of the large displays, Matthew Snip, a leading scientist overseeing the experiment, explaining to the volunteers its steps in detail, a list of permissible and prohibited matters, how the vaccine works in the body and the expected side effects.
10,000 volunteers participate in this experiment. The researchers randomly divide them into two groups. The first receives a vaccine that does not protect against the Coronavirus, while the other receives the vaccine under trial.
The Oxford vaccine relies on a weak sample (the weakest researchers have influenced it) of the virus that causes colds, usually affecting chimpanzees. The team of researchers began work on developing this vaccine before the outbreak of the epidemic, with the aim of combating the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Ebola. That is why the team responded swiftly to the emerging Corona pandemic crisis. In the first months of this year, when it seemed to the world that the epidemic would not be gone soon, the Oxford University team focused their efforts on tackling the new Corona epidemic.
According to Snib, the team extracted this strain of viruses from monkeys and genetically modified them to make their reproduction in human bodies impossible. They added genes from the emerging corona virus that produced certain proteins on its surface. Scientists hope the body will learn to recognize these protein protrusions and alert the immune system to attack them, to prevent the Corona virus from entering the cells of the human body to multiply.
Half of the volunteers will get the vaccine, Snape says, while the other group will receive another licensed vaccine, “Nimenrix” or “menview”, and both vaccines are used to prevent meningitis or septicemia. The second vaccine was chosen for the comparison group instead of using a placebo vaccine, so that the volunteers in this group felt some of the side effects of a real vaccine, and did not discover that they belonged to the group that did not get the Corona vaccine.
Since 2015, teenagers in the UK have been regularly receiving the meningitis vaccine, and it is also getting travelers to areas with increased risk of disease, such as sub-Saharan Africa. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia requires that a certificate of meningitis vaccination be received before entering its lands during the Hajj season.
I began to look back at my history, and whether or not I had symptoms of the emerging corona virus. After obtaining a sample of my blood, the team gave me a list of procedures that require the volunteer’s prior approval, such as permitting filming of the injection site, not donating blood, and in the case of volunteers, agreeing to the use of effective contraceptives. Finally, I agree that the sample of the analysis, of any kind, should be a gift to the university.
When I got home, I felt that the more I knew about the experience, the more I feared its consequences. It was necessary, like all clinical trials, to inform the participants of all possible side effects, ranging from mild dizziness and headache, to severe and rare such as Guillain-Barre syndrome, which causes severe weakness and possibly death. Although the risks are slight, my fear of listening to them all at one time.
The researchers also reviewed some theoretical concerns that the vaccine may exacerbate the symptoms of the Corona virus, as some studies conducted on animals that received experimental vaccines for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) indicated that the vaccine exacerbated pneumonia when infected with the disease. Fortunately, the Oxford vaccine studies in animals did not show similar results.
But I felt a little reassured, when I learned that thousands of volunteers who received the Oxford University Experimental Vaccine had not had any severe side effects.
Day of vaccination
The following week, I returned to St. George’s Hospital, but this time to get the vaccination, and I was afraid that I would be excluded from the experiment.
Before I left the room, doctor Eva Galiza told me that this was the last day in Oxford’s experiments at St. George’s Hospital, and the vaccine samples were running out.
After reviewing my history, the team took another blood sample, and Galiza, a researcher for childhood vaccines and a member of the Oxford team, told me that she knew nothing of the next steps.
To ensure the accuracy of the results of the experiment, doctors also do not know on the team whether the vaccine they inject the participants with is the experimental vaccine or the meningitis vaccine.
While I was alone, I had many thoughts and concerns. In England, where I live, the closing procedures were slated to be eased the following day, marking the opening of shops, companies, bars and barbershops, and these anticipated changes give rise to both concern and concern.
I remembered my friends and family members around the world, while some enjoyed the freedom to live in a virus-free country, while others were still at risk of infection in a country where the death rate was still rising.
In the United States, where I spend most of last year, news reports indicate that the daily toll of injuries has jumped in four separate days in one week to more than 40,000 people. In Brazil, the number of injuries is close to 1.5 million.
One of the reasons why the Oxford team has expanded the scope of trials to include volunteers from Brazil and South Africa is the spread of the epidemic in Brazil.
At least for the time being, UK volunteers will be less able to demonstrate the effectiveness of the vaccine, compared to other volunteers in a country where the disease is still rampant.
Galiza returned to the room with the vaccine. Seconds after my injection, the vaccine entered my bloodstream, and I will not know the type of vaccine that you injected with me until after the trial has ended.
Smears and keep an eye out
The next stage of the vaccine experience involves several steps that take a long time. The participants were divided into groups, each assigned to report symptoms, and to conduct tests, smears and blood tests according to their own schedule.
I had to, according to the schedule, enter a stick for the tonsils for 10 seconds, without touching my teeth or my tongue, then put the same stick on my nose to the deepest point as possible. The nose swab is said to, if performed properly, will feel a tickle in your head.
Then I put the swab in an airtight bag inside a special box and put it in one of the boxes designated by the Royal Mail Authority for urgent parcels across the UK to send Corona analyzes. After a few days, I receive a phone message that the result of the analysis is negative.
I am attached to the survey a questionnaire about my behavior in the previous week, such as the number of people outside my family with whom I spent more than five hours, and whether or not I used public transportation.
I should repeat these steps once a week for at least four months, and I return to the hospital regularly for blood tests over the next year.
Some people, especially politicians, are unable to understand the importance of these long, necessary steps to develop the virus, and are rushing to the results. Although the Oxford experiments to develop the Corona vaccine have so far demonstrated that the vaccine is safe and likely to stimulate the immune system to attack it, the number of participants in these trials did not exceed 1000 people. In order to offer a vaccine to millions of people or the whole world, you may need a level of confidence that only comes with patience and more data.
In the past, operations to introduce new vaccines have failed. In 1976, the US government rushed to develop a vaccine and gave it to tens of millions of Americans prematurely, for fear of a swine flu pandemic. It is estimated that about 30 people have died due to the side effects of the vaccine. These errors may undermine citizens’ confidence in public health advice and fuel fears against vaccination opponents.
Regarding the responsibilities of drug accreditation bodies, Sir John Bell, Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, told the BBC Today program: “We do not have the luxury of waiting until we come to conclusive evidence as in the usual clinical trial cases.” “The most difficult task of all is to decide how effective a vaccine or drug is to offer it to the public.” If the regulator approves the vaccine, you will find three and a half billion people wanting it.
And vaccines that have initial approval may not succeed in preventing the disease exactly as many hope, that is, they may only mitigate the effects of the virus and not completely eliminate it. In other words, people may carry the virus without experiencing its symptoms, and pass on the infection to those who are not immunized. That is why the virus may remain with us forever.
As for me, my prospects for a promising vaccine give me some reassurance, but of course they will not change my behaviors and choices, and this is what the researchers advised me. I will adhere to social separation measures until I make sure there is an effective vaccine for everyone.
In the end, the vaccine experience may not achieve the desired success, as it may not pass the safety and efficacy standards that help us get rid of the epidemic. But scientific discoveries involve group efforts, long-term steps, and many failures.