Former Weatherford resident participates in COVID vaccine clinical trial

  • Russell Brown

During a recent survey conducted by Reid Newspapers regarding COVID-19 vaccinations, former Weatherford resident, Russell Brown, informed the WDN he was part of a vaccine clinical trial conducted by Pfizer.

He answered a few questions concerning the trial. His responses are below.

Weatherford, i.e., alum of Weatherford High School, born here, did you go to SWOSU?

I was born and raised in Weatherford, graduated from high school in 1988. Of note, I ran on the varsity state champion WHS cross country team in 1985 and was inducted into the WHS Hall of Fame in 2016 and my name is on the All-State honorable mention wall at the WHS field house. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Chemistry at University of Oklahoma, a Doctorate in Experimental Psychology at University of Kentucky, post doctoral fellow at University of Lethbridge, in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada.

I am a professor of Biomedical Science at Quillen College of Medicine at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee, and I teach in both our medical school and graduate program in Biomedical Sciences. I am married to Martha Bowden of Versailles, Kentucky, and we have one daughter, Alaina, 13 years. My parents are Talbert and Carol Brown. My dad was a Professor in Chemistry at SWOSU for 30 years and retired in 1997, and lives here in Johnson City, presently. My mom taught elementary school in Weatherford for 30 years and passed away in 2016.

How did you get involved with the clinical trial?

Literally, I Google searched “Pfizer clinical trial” and “Moderna clinical trial,” and learned there were two sites I could attend for the Pfizer clinical trial in nearby Kingsport and Bristol, Tennesee. The Moderna trial required me to drive all the way to Knoxville, Tennesee, which was 85 miles away. So, I clicked on the Pfizer link, and filled out a short survey of questions.

A few examples include “Have you ever tested positive for COVID-19?” How many people do you have contact with daily?” “Have you ever been exposed to someone with COVID-19?” “How many people live in your household and how much contact do they have with others?”

I never tested positive for COVID-19, and although the number of people I contact are relatively low, they called me and set up an appointment.

What was the trial process like, i.e., numbers of shots taken, how you were given the vaccine, etc.?

I was given my first shot, September 11, as well as a COVID-19 test and they took a blood sample for a baseline analysis of my antibodies. My booster shot was given, October 2, 3 weeks after the initial injection. I also was tested again for COVID-19 on that day. I tested negative both times. I was injected into my upper left arm.

November 6, 2020, they took another sample for antibody analysis and in March, I will go back again for a blood sample and again, antibodies will be analyzed.

You mentioned in your comments you had side effects? Can you share what those side effects were and how they impacted you?

After the first shot, about 3-4 hours later I had a little minor pain around the injection site. The pain I experienced did worsen a little bit the next few days, but was nothing different than the flu vaccine. I did experience a bit of tiredness the following day. After the booster shot, I had injection site discomfort much like the first shot, but did experience considerable tiredness that day and the following 2 days. The night following the booster shot, I experienced chills, headache, and fever which were very short lasting about 30 minutes.

I did have some sleep disruption. The following day I felt tired and achy, but did not have a fever. All in all, relatively minor symptoms and all of those symptoms have been reported in many of the participants of this trial. All symptoms were gone by the Monday after the booster, October 5, and have not returned. I have no other symptoms and feel good.

Has Pfizer given you any feedback yet from the trial. If so, can you share a little about that?

They gave me a little feedback. First, they gave me a very extensive informed consent form, explaining the trial and what this vaccine is designed to do. The vaccine is designed to have my body build up antibodies to the spike protein of the virus.

The spike protein is how COVID-19 attaches to us. The idea here is the antibodies will neutralize the spike protein, the virus will never attach, and I will be immune to the virus as long as the antibodies stay relatively high. The nurses who gave me the injections did warn me the side effects were typically worse after the booster, and they were correct.

Did Pfizer say if you will have to get a booster or a follow-up shot down the road, i.e., 6 months or a year from now?

From what I understand, they will continue to check antibodies in all participants and will make that determination based on if the antibodies decrease in time. As of now, I have no more scheduled injections. I am signed up for this trial for a total of 26 months, so they will be taking blood samples from me every 6 months for a little more than 2 years.

I know their preliminary data for antibodies is somewhere around five times that of the antibody response compared to a person who has contracted COVID between the ages of 18 and 60. I am 50 years old. It is around three times that of the antibody response between the ages of 60 and 85.

Do you personally believe the vaccine is safe? Would you recommend others take it?

I believe the vaccine is very safe. Out of some 45,000 participants or so, there have been no adverse events — an event which would require you to go to the hospital or worse. I would highly recommend the vaccine. These side effects were minor, and compared to what is occurring with this virus, this is a walk in the park. My research in our lab is studying drug discovery, and we have worked with Pfizer in the past and have colleagues who were employees there. They are an excellent pharmaceutical company with a great team of scientists who I trust.

After receiving the vaccine, were there any follow-up tests? How did they test whether the vaccine worked? Were you infected with COVID-19? How did that process work?

As I said, the only follow up tests are blood tests for antibodies. In the vaccine I was given, I am given a part of the DNA of COVID-19. That may sound scary, but I am not contagious. By injecting that genetic code, it allows my body to make those antibodies against it. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work in very similar ways.

Interestingly, neither of those two vaccines have had any adverse events, although some of the others have experienced adverse events with Astra-Zeneca as well as Johnson & Johnson. It is important to point out adverse events are common, so I do not believe the Astra-Zeneca or J&J vaccines are dangerous either, and I believe in both cases the adverse events were found to not be related to the vaccine.