COVID-19 vaccine arrives; San Jose mom in trial tells what it feels like
Public Health Pharmacy Pharmacist in Charge Quelan To (left) and Pharmacy Technician Jenifer Villanueva receiving the first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in Santa Clara County, California on December 15, 2020. Courtesy of Santa Clara County.

    Carolyn Bauer said she wasn’t afraid when she decided to take part in a COVID-19 vaccine trial earlier this year. In fact, she thought it was just common sense.

    “I’m a very healthy individual, and someone has to do this,” Bauer said. “To me, I didn’t realize how big a deal some people thought that was.

    “I was like, ‘Is there still room for me?'”

    Bauer, 55, has been encouraging friends, family and colleagues to get the vaccine when they get the chance.

    “I would have opted the whole family into the trial if i could have,” said Bauer, a Transportation Security Administration agent at San Jose International Airport. “The more participants they have, the better data they’re going to get. I wanted to do whatever I could.”

    Bauer is one of some 44,000 people worldwide participating in the phase 3 trial for the vaccine developed by biotech companies Pfizer and BioNTech. The early research has indicated the vaccine is about 95% effective in protecting people from contracting COVID-19.

    Although the trial is still ongoing, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for emergency use Dec. 11. Santa Clara County received its first 5,850 doses Dec. 15, part of the initial 17,550 doses state officials allocated to the county.

    Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, COVID-19 testing officer for Santa Clara County, said the county will receive all of its first round of Pfizer doses by the end of this week. Those doses will go to acute care facilities and skilled nursing staff and residents.

    There are about 75,000 acute care hospital workers in Santa Clara County, so with this first round of vaccine doses, only 10% to 12% of these workers will get vaccinated. Health officials expect the general public won’t have access to COVID-19 vaccines for several months.

    State and federal officials are already working on setting priorities for the order in which people will get the coronavirus vaccines; county health officials plan to follow those guidelines. County officials expect to soon receive additional information from the state about the next shipments of vaccines coming into the county, but did not provide a timeline. They’ll also soon receive and share information about future distribution and requirements.

    ‘Do this for everyone’

    When she enrolled in the trial, Bauer received a 22-page packet full of information about the vaccine, along with numerous consent forms and a copy of the human-research bill of rights. Under the terms of the trial, she had the freedom to decide on her own whether to take part in it at all, is allowed to drop out at any point for any reason, and is entitled to have answered any questions she has about her treatment.

    Along with agreeing to take two doses of the vaccine, all research subjects agreed to fill out a survey at the end of every week that asks whether they’ve had any symptoms of COVID-19. As part of her participation in the trial, Bauer received $119 initially and is paid $5 per week each time she fills out the survey. But she didn’t do it for the money.

    “I didn’t think it was a big deal, I didn’t know they even pay you anything,” Bauer said. “If you’re a healthy person you should do this for everyone.”

    Savannah Bauer, 17, volunteered for the Pfizer-BioNTech phase 3 trials for the COVID-19 vaccine. Pictured three days after her initial dose, Bauer said she felt fine and only a little sore. Courtesy of Carolyn Bauer.

    Researchers plan to monitor study participants for more than two years after their initial dose.

    After Bauer joined the trial, she learned that researchers were looking for teenagers to participate also. So, she encouraged her daughter, Savannah Bauer, to take part too. At first, Savannah, who just turned 17 this month, didn’t want to do it. She wasn’t excited about the prospect of having to endure several uncomfortable nasal-swab COVID-19 tests.

    After going through the initial screening, however, Savannah changed her mind.

    “I’m happy that I got to be part of this study, because I know that the information they’re getting (from my participation) — it could help other people,” Savannah Bauer said. “Just taking the vaccine, even if I wasn’t getting paid — there’s this whole global pandemic and this could be something to help it go away and get back to normal.”

    ‘It was like a bruise’

    Both Carolyn and Savannah felt some mild soreness in their arms where they received their injections. But that was the extent of their symptoms.

    “It was like a bruise. It didn’t hurt unless someone touched it,” Carolyn Bauer said. “It hurt (for) like three days for that area.”

    Currently, the Pfizer vaccine requires a follow-up shot about 21 days after the first dose. An alternate vaccine developed by Moderna likewise requires two doses, with the second recommended to be given about 28 days after the first. The FDA is expected to approve Moderna’s vaccine for emergency use as soon as the end of this week.

    But people shouldn’t let down their guards just because the vaccines have started to arrive, Fenstersheib warned.

    “Testing remains essential in stopping the spread of the virus,” Fenstersheib said. “We continue to urge essential workers to get tested at least monthly — it’s the only way to determine if someone is infected.

    And everyone still needs to wear masks, maintain socially distancing and refrain from gathering with people outside their households, he said.

    “We are hoping these vaccines will eventually spell the end of this pandemic,” Fenstersheib said. “Let’s all stay safe and be patient, however, while we wait to receive the vaccine.”

    Carolyn Bauer had some advice for people who might be nervous about getting the vaccine.

    “If anything, you should be getting it for everyone else,” Bauer said. “There’s no reason if you’re healthy that you should not get this.”

    Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected] and follow her @MadelynGReese.

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