A participant in the Oxford University coronavirus vaccine trial in the UK has said he is undeterred by a pause in the trial, which has been caused by an adverse reaction in one patient, and would continue to take part “in the name of science”.
Joe Walters said he was concerned when news broke of the trial’s suspension. He said he had reacted with a very high fever after his first injection and was worried about the second shot.
Walters received the injection in mid-June after being tested to make sure he had never had the virus and was otherwise healthy. The injection was either the trial coronavirus vaccine or a well-established meningitis vaccine, used as the control.
“I didn’t have a great experience with the first round of the vaccine. I would admit that I had considerable concern about getting the second shot, just because I knew basically the first one took me out of action for two or three days.”
Before receiving the first vaccine dose, he had been warned that he may feel pain at the site of the injection and a fever for a few days, both of which he experienced. But three days after the fever subsided it returned, he said, and his temperature reached 39.4C (103F).
He called a hotline set up for participants and was asked to go in for further tests. Though he had been mailing in weekly coronavirus tests since having the vaccine, he was taken into a coronavirus ward for further screening and tested negative. He was also told he was one of a handful of participants who had experienced a similar reaction.
The fever subsided and when he received the email about the booster shot a few weeks later, he nonetheless agreed to take it “in the name of science”.
“If something has gone wrong on a more serious level, then I doubt that they would continue to administer it,” he said.
He added that he would “certainly” recommend that others participate if more volunteers were needed.
The AstraZeneca/Oxford participant said he chose to take part in the trial because he felt that it was one of the few things people could do to help, and was “something positive to do in the face of something that rendered everyone rather helpless”.
On the day he spoke to the Guardian, Walters had been to the clinic administering his vaccine to receive an optional booster shot. He had been informed in late July that “data from the first trial of the Covid-19 vaccine has recently published in the Lancet journal and suggests that two doses of the vaccine stimulates the immune system more than a single dose”.
On arriving he was told that the booster shots had been placed on hold, as one of the participants had fallen ill.
Later that day, he received a phone call confirming the vaccine trial had been placed on hold. AstraZeneca announced on Tuesday that the late-stage trial had been paused after a suspected serious adverse reaction in a study participant.
An AstraZeneca spokesperson said the “standard review process triggered a pause to vaccination to allow review of safety data”. The adverse reaction had occurred in a patient participating in the trial in the UK.
The nature of the problem was not known, although the participant was expected to recover.
A frontrunner among the more than 170 vaccines being developed around the world, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is in phase 3 trials in South Africa and the US and phase 2/3 trials in India and the UK. It is expected to be available as early as January.
Phase 3 trials involve the vaccine being given to thousands of people to confirm its safety – including rare side effects – and effectiveness. These trials involve a control group which is given a placebo.
Bill Hanage, a Harvard epidemiology expert, tweeted: “While this is obviously not great news, remember that fully investigating adverse reactions is a part of large-scale trials and essential to ensure trust in any vaccine. It will however mean that results will be delayed.”
Worldwide coronavirus infections to date stand at more than 27m, and more than 890,000 people have died from the disease.
The BBC’s medical editor, Fergus Walsh, reported the investigation should be complete in a few days.