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COVID-19 vaccine trials: I took a coronavirus vaccine. Get politics out of its rollout.

When it comes to encouraging use of an effective Pfizer or Moderna coronavirus vaccine, influential public figures have been selfishly reckless.

Adam Guillette
Opinion contributor

“You’re going to turn into a zombie.” 

That’s what my wife, Nikki, told me after I enrolled in clinical trials for a COVID-19 vaccine. She was kidding of course, but I understood her concern about me taking a novel therapy developed under a White House-led program called “Operation Warp Speed.” The title doesn’t exactly relay caution.

We’re both healthy and young so even if we contracted COVID-19 the statistics show it’s unlikely the disease would be a major threat to us. But as the head of a media watchdog organization, I’m constantly on the road. In fact, I’ve traveled to 20 states since the “end of the world” in March. Each week, I meet with supporters, investigators, and activists and I’d feel horrible if I asymptomatically transferred the disease to any one of them. 

So when I heard that COVID-19 vaccine trials had begun in Florida at the nearby Jacksonville Center for Clinical Research, I decided to take the risk. My family has a bit of a background in medicine — in fact, my grandfather was a senior vice president and medical director for Aetna — and they assured me that enrolling in the trial was low risk since the vaccine had entered Phase 3 trials

Cutting edge medicine

Basically, the Phase 3 vaccine is likely to be identical to the one that will be widely available to the general public. So why not avoid waiting in line, assist the medical community, make my grandfather proud, and have local doctors available if I ever need to call with a question?

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I was told I’d be receiving an mRNA vaccine from either Moderna or Pfizer. No mRNA vaccine has ever been licensed for human use, at least in the United States. mRNA vaccines are cutting edge technology. They give you molecules that trigger your body to generate antibodies. They’re less expensive to produce than traditional vaccines and can be manufactured more quickly. Plus, mRNA vaccines are expected to have less side-effects.

“Less” side-effects are not the same as “no” side-effects, I discovered.

Four small vials labeled COVID-19 vaccine.

After receiving the second dose of the Moderna vaccine in September, I was up all night with chills. The next day I had a mild fever. Per their instructions, I called the clinical center and alerted them. I was instructed to take some Tylenol and come in immediately if my temperature rose above 102 degrees. It didn’t. Meanwhile, I celebrated. These side effects likely meant I had received the vaccine rather than the placebo. 

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Later that night my fever broke and I felt 90% better the next day. In fact, as a regular runner, I ran 5 miles that morning and 10 miles the following day. A few weeks later I received the results of an antibody test and learned that the vaccine did indeed work for me. 

Sowing the seeds of doubt

Now, with Pfizer’s announcement of a 90% efficacy rate in early studies for its version of nearly the same vaccine using mRNA technology, I am proud to have played a part in this medical breakthrough that could help Americans get back to work, school, sports, concerts and travel. I say “could” because I know the threat that politics can play in undercutting the best interests of the public.

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Vice president-elect Kamala Harris has been complicit in sowing the seeds of doubt in a vaccine developed during the Trump administration. And this week, New York's Gov. Andrew Cuomo lamented that the vaccine coming out while President Donald Trump is still president is “bad news” and that America should delay the roll out until Joe Biden takes office in January.

New York was once the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., but Gov. Andrew Cuomo says infection rates are among lowest in the nation.

It’s disgusting that Cuomo would apparently prefer to let people die rather than let the Trump administration get credit for the rollout of a vaccine for a virus that brought the world to its knees.

This rhetoric has been going on for months and has had a dangerous impact. According to a September poll from the Pew Research Center, 51% of respondents said they would definitely or probably get a COVID-19 vaccine if it were available today, down from 72% from in the spring. Words have consequences and, in this case, these influential public figures have been selfishly reckless.

Adam Guillette in New York City in September 2016.

The media has an obligation to expose politicians putting politics above public health. For my part, I am doing everything I can to tell my story. I took the vaccine — and it worked. This is not a partisan issue.

Adam Guillette is the president of Accuracy in Media. Follow him on Twitter: @adamguillette