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Interview with a COVID-19 vaccine trial participant

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O'Colly file photo.

Lifelong Oklahoman and practicing pharmacist Lauren Murphey is feeling more optimistic these days. Her background in health and pharmacy landed her at the University of Oklahoma children’s hospital last year and she’s learning more about her field every day. 

She also may have already received the COVID-19 vaccine.

“The trial that I’m in is called the Moderna trial,” Murphey said. So I’m in the trial, it’s a phase III trial so it’s already gone through two phases. Before they look at how well (the vaccine) works, they first look at safety. That’s kind of first and foremost with what they look at.”

Moderna, a United States-based biotechnology company, has one of the more unique COVID-19 vaccines being tested. In it, the company is using messenger RNA, a genetic material that no other approved vaccine has ever used.

“That’s why Moderna was able to put this together so quickly,” Murphey said. They look at messenger RNA and so they’ve already been looking at that for a slew of things and so they were really able to take that technology they’re already researching and just kind of tweak it for COVID-19 and plug it in.”

Murphey was told that this vaccine trial is looking at different doses and that the Moderna vaccine, if approved, would likely have multiple doses needed to ensure a strong antibody response.

“So you’ll get one dose on your first visit and then you’ll get your second dose like a month later,” Murphey said.

But due to the way that Moderna is conducting this trial, Murphey still doesn’t know if the shot she received had the actual vaccine in it.

“Out of the 30,000 (vaccine trial members), roughly 15,000 will get the vaccine and the other 15,000 will get the placebo, which is really just a normal saline injection,” Murphey said. “But it is double blind, actually quadruple blind, but it is double blind in the sense that I don’t know what I got, but the researchers also don’t know what I have. So they get a batch of them and someone totally independent knows what they are, but we don’t know.”

Having a quadruple blind experiment like this will stop the trial candidates from having biases in their symptoms. Every day, Murphey has to fill out a chart of her symptoms and how she feels to ensure the researchers have all the updated information. She finds support during this trial from six other trial members -- which she shares a group chat with.

“We can kind of compare how we’re feeling and stuff and that’s totally fine because we all don’t know what we got so one of us may have a vaccine, one may have a placebo,” Murphy said.

Murphey noted that while this trial is technically a two-year surveillance process, the vaccine may be approved and ready by the end of 2020.

“If the side effects are minimal and the (Food and Drug Administration) gives it the go ahead, which could be towards the end of the year, if that were to happen they would ‘unblind’ the participants, tell me if I have the vaccine or placebo and they offer the vaccine to the placebo group at that point,” Murphey said.

With a large amount of misinformation online, Murphey hopes to bring about a message of certainty for others if this vaccine is approved. 

“It’s easy to get good information and misinformation to people,” Murphey said. “My message to people (if they’re skeptical about a vaccine) is to talk to someone in the healthcare field that you really trust and that you know is really educated on the topic and just listen to what they have to say.”