I Participated in a COVID-19 Vaccine Trial and Here's What Happened

An associate dean and wildlife veterinarian from Cummings School shares her story as a participant in a clinical trial for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine
COVID-19 vaccine
"I wanted to make sure Asian people were represented in the COVID-19 vaccine trial," said Florina Tseng, Associate Dean for Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Climate at Cummings School. Photo: Ingimage
February 3, 2021

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Florina Tseng is the Associate Dean for Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Climate and professor of wildlife medicine at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. Since last fall, she has been one of 30,000 people across the United States enrolled in Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine trial. This is her story of why she joined it, what it was like, and how it turned out, as told to Tufts Now.

I enrolled in the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine trial for many reasons. The trial was with Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, and I had enrolled in a previous study with them, so I was familiar with their research teams and how well thought out their studies are. I also knew they were in phase three, which meant the vaccine was tested for safety in earlier trials. And I wanted to make sure Asian people were represented in the trial. I'm over 60 years old and Asian, so I thought enrolling would be a good thing to do.

At the first visit in September 2020, I filled out a lot of consent forms. The researchers went through everything so I understood the different parts of the research and the types of samples I would have to provide. I had blood drawn and a really deep nasal swab, because they wanted to know if I had COVID or the antibodies at that time. Then I got the first injection, though I didn't know if I received a placebo or the vaccine.Florina Tseng, Associate Dean for Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Climate and professor of wildlife medicine at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. Photo: Alonso Nichols / Tufts University

As a study participant, you’re required to keep an e-diary. Every day for a week after the shot, you take your temperature and record it in your diary. If there’s redness, swelling, or other side effects, you record those, too. My symptoms were mild—a little pain and swelling at the injection site, which went away after 24 hours.

I went back four weeks later and got the second shot along with similar kinds of sampling. The day after, I had the same reaction with pain and swelling. But I also felt fatigued and had a headache, which is unusual for me. As I reported those experiences in my e-diary, I thought I might have gotten the vaccine, but I had to consider the placebo effect.

After two months, I returned for more sampling but not more injections. During the entire process, they would call me three times after each injection, and now monthly, to find out if I was experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms.

In December 2020, two members of my household developed COVID-19. They had nasal congestion, lost their sense of smell and taste, and had to isolate at home for more than two weeks. I was quarantined for a shorter period of time, and was tested multiple times, but each test came back negative. At that point, I guessed that I had been vaccinated, because certainly I'd been in close contact.

A few weeks ago, I went back to Brigham and Women’s Hospital to be unblinded, which is when they tell you if you received the vaccine or a placebo. There was another deep nasal swab, more bloodwork, and more consent forms. They said, "What do you think you got?" I said, “I think I got the vaccine.” Turns out, I did get the vaccine.

Moderna had 30,000 people enrolled across the United States in the trial, half of whom got the placebo, half did not. I feel so incredibly lucky to have gotten the vaccine. I am happy to know that since September, I was at least somewhat immune to COVID-19, as the Moderna vaccine is 94% effective.

I'm not going to change my cautionary behaviors, because nothing is 100% effective. Until there is herd immunity, which likely will require at least 80% or more of the population to be vaccinated, you're potentially still at risk. I will continue to wear masks, physically distance, and of course, participate in routine surveillance testing at Cummings School. If I am exposed to a case of COVID-19, I will also need to quarantine.

I would encourage people to get the vaccine once it’s available to them, because it's what we need to do in order to stop the pandemic. It was rewarding to be part of the process.

Please note that once the vaccine is administered, all members of the Tufts community will be expected to follow all current University public health safety protocols—including continuing to wear masks in public spaces, wearing appropriate PPE (goggles, N95s, etc.) in patient care settings, following social distancing guidelines, practicing proper hand hygiene, and participating in the mandatory routine COVID-19 surveillance testing program. It is not yet known whether the vaccine protects you from transmitting the virus to others (although you remain asymptomatic). In addition, the duration of immunity remains unknow in all populations.