The first vaccine trial for the COVID-19 virus is underway in the state of Washington, and GV Wire spoke to one of the first participants, Neal Browning, via “Zoom” to learn what is happening and get his thoughts on the timeframe for a vaccine.
On March 16, 2020, Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute gave the first injection of an investigational vaccine for the novel coronavirus to four volunteers participating in a phase 1 federally sponsored clinical trial.
Neal Browning, 46, lives in Bothell, Washington, north of Seattle, with his fiancee and their daughters. He works as a network engineer at Microsoft, one of the first companies to require its employees to work remotely.
According to Kaiser’s protocol for the study, “study participants must be healthy Seattle-area adults age 18 to 55 years. To be eligible, they can’t have certain health conditions that affect the immune system, and they can’t be taking medications that affect the immune system.”
Washington has been hit hard by the virus. Through March 28, the state had nearly 5,000 confirmed cases and 195 deaths.
Browning Explains How the Vaccine Works
Browning is both an engineer and capable of explaining in understandable terms how the vaccine is designed to protect people from the coronavirus.
“It re-programs your cells. But instead of making a virus, it makes the protein structure that everyone has seen on the news,” Browning said. “The little sphere with the triangles poking out of it. That simulates the outer shell of the COVID-19 virus structure.
“Your body should then see that, say this shouldn’t be here, an immune response kicks in, white blood cells attack it and they start building anti-bodies that like the opposite piece to that little shell that know how to fit around it and grab it so the white blood cells can absorb it, kill it and destroy it.”
Browning and his fiancee have three daughters between them, ages 8, 9, and 11. The girls are proud of him for testing the first vaccine for the new virus, he said.
Initial Trial is a Small Phase I
The initial trial is a small “phase I” test involving 45 participants — part of a three-phase process that is necessary to determine whether a vaccine works.
According to Kaiser Permanente, phase I trials are not designed to determine whether the vaccine is effective in preventing coronavirus infection. That work comes at a later phase of the vaccine research.
Blood Draws and Twitter Updates
Browning says, “Now they’re moving forward, and they’re going to start doing the blood draws — my next one is this coming Tuesday — and they’re going to be taking a lot more blood. Those are going to start looking for the immune response that should have happened. It’ll start looking for increased white blood cell count.”
Browning is providing regular updates via Twitter.
Here is a link to a more complete update on today's blood draw 1 week from the initial COVID-19 test vaccine I was given: https://t.co/k3Ucdum9In#COVIDー19 #COVIDVACCINE #coronavirus @KING5 @komonews @KIRO7Seattle @CNN @AP
— Neal Browning (@NealBrowning) March 23, 2020
“Hopefully within the next month and a half to two months, all 45 people should be through their full cycle,” Browning said.
Vaccine Is on the Fast Track
“It’s my understanding they’re fast-tracking this,” Browning said. “This was the very fastest any FDA backed United States vaccine has ever gone to this phase. Simply because of the fast-tracking and skipping animal introduction at first, we are the animals. We are the first living things to get this.”
“I know that a year seems like a long time But, you can’t put something bad out there that doesn’t work.”