THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
The beginning to 2021 hasn’t offered much respite from the coronavirus pandemic. As the UK enters its third national lockdown amid the discovery of a new, more infectious strain of Covid-19, the US continues to battle against worryingly high rates of the virus from coast to coast.
There is a feeling of optimism, though, as the rollout of vaccines gathers pace on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s a sense of optimism I can understand, as I’ve been part of a Covid-19 vaccine trial since November last year.
When the call went out in the UK for volunteers to participate in the trial of a vaccine being developed by the Maryland, US based firm Novavax, it felt like a no-brainer for me to get involved.
Like many, I have vulnerable friends and family who have been severely affected by the pandemic. It’s particularly struck me how people with potentially life-limiting conditions are having to live what could be their last days in lockdown. I wanted to be part of a solution, and when the NHS reached out, I grabbed the opportunity.
The Novavax trial is being supported in the UK by the National Institute for Health Research, the body which co-ordinates and funds research for the NHS.
In this particular trial, there’s a 50/50 chance that I’ve received a placebo rather than the actual vaccine. In a way, it means I’m less clear on what 2021 holds for me, but the placebo-controlled environment is essential to truly test the efficacy of the vaccine.
So far, I’ve attended a clinic for both a first and second dose, and some follow up blood tests. It’s been a really easy process, and, to use an old English phrase, no skin off my teeth.
A lot of the people I’ve spoken to about the trial have been really thankful for my participation, including the amazing nurses and doctors of the NHS who, you won’t be surprised to know, are absolute stars. However, I don’t feel I’ve earned any particular plaudits – like many people during this pandemic, I just wanted to play a part and help out.
What I do hope my involvement in the trial leads to, though, is an understanding among the wider public of the importance of getting vaccinated.
A survey undertaken in November 2020 by Imperial College London’s Institute of Global Health Innovation (IGHI) and YouGov found that at the time, before the first vaccines were approved in the UK, only 4 in 10 of respondents would accept a jab immediately.
As more people receive the vaccination, it’s natural that confidence in the process will grow. But education remains essential in order to encourage as many people as possible to get the jab, to protect themselves as well as to bring about an end to the pandemic.
In August, the UK government confirmed it had an agreement in principle to secure 60 million doses of the Novavax vaccine, and in the US, Novavax has been given a fast track designation by the FDA – so you’re likely to hear more about it as the year unfolds.
Although it hasn’t been formally approved, the hope is that the Novavax vaccine will join the Pfizer/BioNTech, Oxford/AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines among those being used in the US and Europe.
The more vaccines that are developed, the more that can be produced, and the more widely they can be distributed. With new variants of Covid-19 also being discovered, multiple vaccines that are based on different scientific approaches will also speed up the process of identifying alterations to tackle virus mutations.
It’s been a very rewarding experience to participate in the trial, and if you have the chance to get vaccinated, do take the opportunity as soon as you can. Every jab brings a little more optimism back to our world.