Getting the COVID Vaccine -- A Trial Participant Shares What It's Like

John Whyte, MD, MPH; Kelvin Phillips, MFA, PMP

Disclosures

December 04, 2020

Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

  • Kelvin Phillips took part in the COVID-19 vaccine trial both for the "greater good" and to help the trial represent diverse demographics. Phillips, age 50, is African American and has high blood pressure.

  • The screening process for the 2-year study started with a 4-hour health interview, a physical exam, and blood collection.

  • After the first shot, Phillips was "extremely fatigued," but he doesn't know whether that was related to the vaccine or to the 8 vials of blood that were collected. He felt fine after the second shot, which he received a month later.

  • Daily health monitoring for the trial is done through an app. It includes temperature checks and feeling for any bumps near the injection site or under the arm.

  • In the past, unethical medical experiments have been performed on Black people in the United States, which created a history of distrust of the medical community. Some people of color are hesitant about getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

  • Phillips wasn't scared of the speed of the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. He trusts the scientists and recognizes that technology has advanced tremendously.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

John Whyte, MD, MPH: Welcome, everyone. I'm Dr John Whyte, chief medical officer at WebMD, and you're watching Coronavirus in Context.

Everyone's talking about COVID-19 vaccines, but what is it like to actually have received one? Today I'm going to talk to someone who's participated in a trial. My guest is Kelvin Phillips.

Kelvin, thanks for joining me.

Kelvin Phillips, MFA, PMP: Sure.

Whyte: So why did you decide to participate in a trial?

Phillips: I think it was September. In Newark, New Jersey, they were sending news notifications out about looking for people to participate in trials, and I figured that the reason they were doing this is because they wanted certain demographics. I realized that this is probably something I should look into as I imagined they were probably having some challenges finding people of color to readily participate in these trials for all kinds of reasons.

Whyte: Did you feel that you wanted to do it for the greater good, or was it because you thought you might be able to get some protection for yourself? How did you balance different interests? Because let's be honest: You don't know how people are going to respond to a novel type of technology.

Phillips: I really wanted to do it for the greater good. I think that it's important that these studies actually represent as many varied demographics and types of people as possible. I'm obviously African American, over 50, and have a comorbidity — I have high blood pressure that I take maintenance medication for. I thought it would be useful if someone like me volunteered to participate. I sent a note and said I'm interested, but then they actually did a screening process; you have to get chosen.

Whyte: We know that COVID disproportionately impacts people of color. So that factored into your decision-making, that you wanted to make sure that the vaccine had good efficacy and safety data on people of color?

Phillips: Correct. The communities with people of color are getting hit much harder for lots of reasons, both early on and even now. I thought it was important that the data through these trials actually represent those communities as well.

Whyte: So, tell us your experience. Did you get the vaccine or a placebo? Have they revealed that information yet?

Phillips: No; it's a 25-month (2-year) study.

Whyte: Two years? Okay.

Phillips: I went to the first screening in the beginning of October. It was the longest process — of them interviewing me, going through my family and medical history, my reading through all the information about the vaccine, and them answering any questions that I had. It was about 4 hours of that.

Then they take you to another room where they give you a complete physical. They check your vitals and take a lot of blood from you, like eight vials of blood. They do a nasal swab, and then they give you the first shot. Neither you or they know whether it's a placebo or the vaccine. The only person who does know is the nurse who gives the shot.

After getting the first shot, you wait 30 minutes to see if you have any reaction to it. They take your vitals again, and if you're good, they release you. A month later you take the second shot and go through the same process again (the physical, check of vitals, and nasal swab). I just did the second shot 3 weeks ago. This coming Monday I have my third visit, and then there's a number of visits throughout the year. After the first year, there's one final visit on the 2-year mark where they just kind of close it all out.

Whyte: Now, tell us how you've been feeling.

Phillips: I feel good. The only thing is — and who knows whether this was because of all the blood they took the first time that I went — I was very fatigued when I got home from the first visit. I was extremely fatigued. It was very uncommon for me to feel like that. But after the second shot I got, I didn't feel anything. I felt fine.

Whyte: Did your arm hurt at all after the shot? Some people have been saying that can be a side effect.

Phillips: It did not. In fact, they give you a thermometer and load a monitoring app on your phone. Basically, they ping you every day to take your temperature, to feel under your arm, to feel your arm where you received the shot, and they make sure that everything is okay. You just record that information and send it off to them. So, nothing like that in terms of side effects.

Whyte: How does it work? There's been some talk about people in the trial who were not randomized to get the vaccine; what will their opportunity be to get a vaccine? Have they talked at all about that?

Phillips: I don't know. I will ask them that next time I go there. It's like, "Well, now that it looks like you're going to receive Food and Drug Administration approval, can you unblind me so I can actually know if have the vaccine?" And I don't know where they are with that.

I should add that for anyone who's uncomfortable with partaking in any future trial, they were very clear that you can back out any time you want. If the needle is right up on your arm and you decide you don't want to do it, you can walk away at any step in the process. I could walk away today if I wanted to. So they're very clear about that. But they also let you know that they, too, can end the trial early if they see fit.

Whyte: There's a lot of hesitancy about the vaccine, and at WebMD we've been surveying a lot of people who come to our site. More than half are saying they won't take it, certainly not within the first 3 months. We see that people of color are more skeptical than some other groups about a vaccine, especially since it seems to be going so fast. What do you say to those folks who are hesitant about getting the vaccine when it becomes available?

Phillips: Speaking first about people of color, African Americans — we have a history of being distrustful, for right reasons. There's the famous Tuskegee study that everyone knows about. That went on for over 40 years ─ the testing and knowing that you have people in the study who have syphilis, and you're studying how it progresses over decades and not letting them know. So there is that.

I have people in my family who are nervous about the vaccines and people who I've told that I'm participating in this trial, and they're like, "Why would you do that?" But then I also have a lot of friends who were really encouraging of it. They said that it's actually a good thing to do.

What I'll say is that we live in unprecedented times. We have to do what we have to do to get past this. I mean, it's just very scary. We're getting ready to go through a winter where, again, we're going to have some really challenging times. We're in a good place in that we do have a number of vaccines that seem like they're going to be available sooner and not later. That's actually really helpful and a good thing. We should encourage that so that we can all get back to some kind of normal.

Whyte: Did you have any concerns about the speed in which it seems it's all getting done, or was that a positive thing for you?

Phillips: I did a lot of research before ultimately deciding to do this, and one of my concerns was that vaccines take decades to develop over time. I'm not a doctor like yourself, John, so I don't know how and why that is. However, I'm also geekish. I love digging into artificial intelligence and the way the world is trending, and just how everything is going. And everything is moving faster.

So it's not scary to me that we actually have the capability and the technology to develop things a lot faster. That's one of the benefits of working at a company like Medscape — to really know all the research that is happening. So I'm not afraid of that. I guess what I'm saying is that I trust the scientists to do the right thing.

Whyte: It's good science.

Phillips: It's important globally. You've got to get it right on a global level — and we gotta get past this, is the point.

Whyte: Do we need different messaging to minority communities to encourage vaccination?

Phillips: Well, the day before my first screening, there was an event sponsored by the study, where they had researchers, doctors, and social scientists of color in a panel, inviting the entire community and anybody who wanted to be on this call to answer any questions. Basically, what they were saying was that it's all about research. It's all available. You can go on the internet and read about these studies, how they're developing, and where things stand — all of that is out there. You can empower yourself by getting the knowledge and making informed decisions.

That's what I would tell people: that it's all out there if you look for it, read, and study. You don't have to necessarily listen to someone telling you something that might not be right information. You can actually get it yourself, which is what I did. That made me comfortable enough to go ahead with it.

Whyte: Well, Kelvin, I want to thank you for sharing your story today and providing your insights and your experience to help others in their decision-making when a vaccine becomes authorized.

Phillips: Sure, John. It's been a pleasure.

Whyte: And I want to thank our audience for watching. If you have questions about the vaccine or questions about testing, shoot them our way. Send them to drjohn@webmd.net. I'll be answering questions every Friday, and we'll see what we can do to best answer them.

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