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What it’s like to be part of a COVID-19 vaccine trial

With Moderna reporting encouraging early results from its COVID-19 vaccine candidate, we take a personal look at what it’s like to be part of the research process. The NewsHour’s John Yang is participating in Moderna’s clinical trials. He joins Judy Woodruff to discuss what motivated him to volunteer, how he has felt after each of the two shots and what comes next for the study's participants.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now to a personal take on the vaccine hunt.

    Our own John Yang has been a part of these clinical trials. And he joins me now.

    So, John, not everybody would want to take part in one of these. What made you want to do it? And why do you think they wanted you, other than the fact that you're an amazing, wonderful human being?

    (LAUGHTER)

  • John Yang:

    Well, Judy, I wish I could say it was something altruistic like wanting to contribute to the solution, wanting to help the cause of science.

    But, quite frankly, it was the opportunity, the chance that I could get the real vaccine. In these trials, half get the real vaccine, half get the placebo. So, that 50/50 chance is what attracted me.

    I am in a high-risk group. My age, I have asthma, I have high blood pressure, things that put me at a high-risk group. And according to the doctors in the study, that's what also made me attractive is that they wanted to find out if the vaccine was safe for people in those groups. I'm also a person of color, which is something they wanted to test.

    And my desire to get the real vaccine was so great that, after the first day after I got the vaccine, I was actually a little disappointed that I hadn't had a reaction to it, to the shot, that maybe I got the placebo.

    (LAUGHTER)

    And, paradoxically, the next morning, when I started to feel some of the side effects, it actually — it buoyed me a little bit. I felt good that. I felt good about feeling bad.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, you thought maybe you did get the real thing.

    So, John, we have heard the side effects not too debilitating. And assuming you did get the real thing, tell us, what did you go through? How did it affect you?

  • John Yang:

    Well, there were two shots.

    The first one, as I say, the first day, I was fine, the second day, started to get a little achy, a little muscle pain, muscle soreness, joint soreness. I got a fever, not too high. About 99.9 was the highest it went. I got it on a Tuesday, got the shot on a Tuesday, and those symptoms really did persist, until about Saturday was the first day that I really felt fine.

    The second shot, the onset was much faster. By that night, I was in bed. I was in bed by 7:00, achy, feverish, fatigue. But as the onset was faster that second time, it resolved faster, too. Again, I got it on a Tuesday. By Wednesday, I was fine.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And so, John, in a situation like this, where you don't know going in whether it is the real thing or a placebo, what kinds of questions — as this has gone on, what kinds of questions has this raised for you about the vaccine?

  • John Yang:

    Well, they asked me to continue my usual routine.

    I stayed, obviously, working from home, wearing a mask when I go out, going to go shopping. And I think I'm — what I'm fighting against is, we still don't know how long the immunity lasts, or even if I personally have immunity.

    So, I am being very careful not to change my patterns, not to change any of the precautions that I am taking, still being very careful, wearing that mask.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, at some point, you will find out for sure whether you had the real vaccine or not?

  • John Yang:

    Well, this morning, when they announced their preliminary results, they said that they were so happy with what they were finding, they were going to offer the real vaccine to the people in the placebo group.

    I'm going for my two-month check-in tomorrow, so I'm going to ask them if they're going to tell me whether I am — which group I'm in, and if I am in the placebo, whether they will offer me the real vaccine.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it's so helpful to hear your story.

    And I think everybody has to say, when you offer to do something like this, it's a — you're making a sacrifice for everybody else. And we thank you for that, John Yang.

  • John Yang:

    Thank you.

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