On Monday, March 16, in a monumental act of courage and selflessness, Jen Haller, age 43, became the first person to receive the first-ever injection of an investigational vaccine for the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. This is the first vaccine trial for this virus, which causes COVID-19 in humans [note: at the time of publishing, over 362,000 cases and over 15,000 deaths have been confirmed around the world]. Last Thursday, from her home in the Seattle, Washington area, Jen spoke with Women You Should Know co-founder, Jen Jones, about her decision to volunteer for the study. This (video above) is their conversation… raw… honest… real.
The COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial in which Jen Haller is participating is being conducted at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (KPWHRI) in Seattle, under the leadership of Lisa Jackson, MD, MPH, a senior investigator at KPWHRI. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which is helmed by Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the most visible members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, selected KPWHRI to conduct the federally-funded study.
KPWHRI began recruiting vaccine trial participants on March 3. Jen Haller, who is an operations manager for a tech company and mother of two teens, applied and was accepted along with 44 other healthy volunteers. Last Monday, she was the first among them to receive the first dose of mRNA-1273, an investigational vaccine made by Moderna, a biotechnology company based in Cambridge, MA. Her injection came just 63 days after Moderna’s infectious disease research team finalized the sequence for the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine on January 13, 2020 [note: the Chinese authorities shared the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus on January 11, 2020.] In this first phase of the trial, KPWHRI researchers are “testing the safety of various doses and whether these doses produce an immune response.”
Jen, who will receive a second dose three weeks from today (the two trial doses are given 28 days apart), cannot contract the coronavirus from the experimental vaccine. “It does not contain any part of the actual coronavirus and cannot cause infection,” the KPWHRI announcement explains. “Instead, it includes a short segment of messenger RNA that is made in a lab.” This is a new process that is “much faster than older methods of making vaccines.”
In determining mRNA-1273’s efficacy and safety in preventing coronavirus infection, Jen and her fellow trial participants will be followed for 12 months after the second vaccination. If successful, it could take upwards of 18 months for a vaccine to be produced and made available for widespread use.
With this inaugural vaccine trial now underway thanks to the NIH, Kaiser Permanente Washington, Moderna, and heroic volunteers like Jen Haller, the World Health Organization announced in a press conference on Friday that at least 20 different coronavirus vaccines are now in accelerated development around the world as scientists and innovators race to find a treatment.