True Story - I'm participating in a COVID-19 vaccine trial (Part 2: Appointment day)

December 14, 2020
Kelly Warren gets her first shot in the vaccine trial at MUSC.
Kelly Warren gets her first shot in the COVID-19 vaccine trial at the Medical University of South Carolina. Photos by Sarah Pack

Kelly Warren is a manager with MUSC’s Enterprise Campaigns and University Communications. Warren volunteered to be a participant in the MUSC/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine trial. She shares her experiences so that others might also feel comfortable receiving the vaccine. This is part two. Read part one here. Read part three here. Read part four here. Read part five here.


Today’s the day! I’m headed to campus in a bit for my first appointment and to receive either the COVID-19 trial vaccine or a placebo. For the first time, I’m getting a little nervous. Everything I’ve read about side effects and percentages is, statistically, very reassuring. However, I seldom get sick and can’t remember the last time I had something flu-like, so I’m not certain what to expect. Plus, I’m really not looking forward to the nasal swab. I guess we shall see over the next few days how things go!

A few hours later

Appointment success! It took about 1 ½ hours and was pretty much what I expected. I arrived on campus for the first time in months and headed up to the office. The strangest part of the day was definitely walking through the hospital and Clinical Science Building with the COVID-19 signage, everyone being masked, not just some clinicians, and the decrease in human traffic.

My appointment started with paperwork, nothing too different from a standard check-up. I received a brief physical then it was on to the next station where we dug into the details of the study. I learned what would be expected of me and what I could expect from the study managers. They explained any risks and what has been learned in other studies. 

As they explained the very few cases where they’d seen more significant side effects and the causes they’d discovered, any remaining fears were calmed. Most people only experience mild flu-like symptoms the first day or two, which doesn’t sound fun but is certainly manageable. They also discussed the placebo I could receive — a saline shot with no side effects or risks. I’m really hoping I receive the real shot, but we will see.

My next stop was the most dreaded part — the nasal swab. We went to the drive-up testing location outside of CSB where I took a seat and clinched my hands. Once my brain was finished being scraped and I dried my watering eyes, it was back upstairs for the next step.

Kelly Warren gets a physical during the COVID-19 vaccine trial at MUSC. 
Andrea Boan, Ph.D., gives Warren a check-up as program coordinator Abigail Grady asks Warren medical questions for the trial records.

After spending more time on paperwork, one of the nurses began taking several blood samples. Fortunately, I donate blood frequently and have never been too scared of needles, so this part was a breeze. They gave me the option of opting in to the genomics project so I figured sure, why not? If I’m going to be a guinea pig and try to help further research, might as well go all in! After all the blood collections were done it was time for the final step — the shot.

We went to the last stop where I was met by two nurses in full PPE. They again reviewed some final information, like what I should expect from the vaccine versus the placebo, then it was time for the stick. I found it interesting that this shot went into the muscle in the back of my shoulder, rather than the side like a flu vaccine. I immediately felt it, similar to the flu vaccine. After receiving the injection, I had to wait around for 15 minutes to see if I had an adverse reaction to the injection site. I didn’t, so I was soon out the door to return home and to work.

Over the next two weeks, I’ll complete a daily digital diary tracking my reaction. At the end of two weeks I return for a follow-up appointment. I return at about 45 days for another injection and follow up. The whole trial is scheduled to last two years but if there’s anything 2020 has taught us it’s flexibility! 

And so, now we wait and see what happens.

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