‘Helping humanity’: Why this man volunteered for a coronavirus vaccine trial

Last Monday, Neal Browning became one of the first people to get injected with an experimental COVID-19 vaccine as part of a clinical trial in Seattle.

“Honestly, it hurt less than any other shot I’ve ever had. There was almost no pain at all,” Browning told Global News’ podcast Wait, There’s More from his home outside of Seattle where he lives with his fiancée and daughters. 

The morning after he got the first shot, Browning said his arm felt a bit sore. “But within five minutes of getting up and moving around and getting the blood flowing, that went away.”

5:05Is a coronavirus vaccine on the way?
Is a coronavirus vaccine on the way?

Browning, a network engineer for Microsoft, is one of 45 volunteers who are taking part in the study at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute. It’s one of dozens of efforts underway by scientists around the world who are racing to develop therapies and vaccines for the novel coronavirus that has infected hundreds of thousands of people and resulted in more than 16,000 deaths.

The urgent nature of getting a vaccine as soon as possible has prompted these trials to skip certain pre-clinical steps that are typically involved in creating a vaccine, including moving very quickly onto human studies at an unprecedented rate

“I and the 44 other people taking part in this are the animal trials in this instance,” Browning said. Still, it could take more than a year for a vaccine to be deemed safe enough for widespread distribution. 

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Browning said he’s never done anything like this before, except maybe donate blood, but part of the reason he felt compelled to do it is because of his family.

“When I have to tell my kids, ‘It’s time for your shots, go get your flu shots, get your vaccines,’ I mean, what better example than Dad’s helping too?” Browning said. “I want them to grow up in a world where hopefully we don’t have things like this happen in the future.

“I really do feel like it’s all of our parts to play in helping humanity.”

0:59Coronavirus outbreak: COVID-19 vaccine research continues at University of Saskatchewan
Coronavirus outbreak: COVID-19 vaccine research continues at University of Saskatchewan

He said he came across an ad for the study on Facebook, and after doing some research, felt that the risks were minimal.

Participants in this particular study, which is slated to last for six weeks, are not injected with the novel coronavirus itself, rather they’re administered doses of an experimental vaccine to determine whether it induces an immune response.

“It uses messenger RNA (or mRNA) that’s injected into my body, invades my cells and teaches my cells how to make the proteins [that resemble the exterior of the coronavirus],” Browning said. “So my body is building proteins that look just like the outside of the coronavirus in order to trigger my white blood cells to learn how to attack and kill that type of protein on the outside.”

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Browning said he and the other participants will get a second vaccine injection, and then they’ll go through another four weeks of blood draws. 

“And that second injection is to simulate more of an actual infection to gauge how quickly my body responds to another invasion and shows that hopefully it responds quickly and it’s fighting it off successfully.”

The goal is that should he become infected with COVID-19, ideally his body knows how to find it and react rapidly “and kill the coronavirus before it can take a hold and cause me physical harm,” he said.

Browning said he’s hoping that the researchers will have enough data from the participants to determine how effective the first phase of the trial is within a couple months. 

“I’m very optimistic,” he said. “I have to be.”

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