I’m in the Pfizer Trial. Should I Get Vaccinated Early?
One participant’s ethical quandaries
Nothing about volunteering in a Covid-19 vaccine trial felt like a sacrifice. When I eked out a spot at one of the NYC trial sites for the Pfizer vaccine in late summer, friends and family thanked me for putting myself on the line. Some questioned my decision because of how little was known about the maybe-vaccine and possible side effects. But all I felt was very, very lucky. Although I had a 50–50 chance of getting the placebo, which was an injection of saltwater, I also had coin-flip odds of getting a vaccine that looked safe and efficacious in earlier trials months before everyone else.
The gamble only seemed luckier a couple months later when Pfizer announced there was enough data to determine their vaccine candidate was a whopping 95% effective at preventing Covid-19 disease. I shared in the collective relief on Friday, December 11, the day the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted its first emergency use authorization (EUA) for a Covid-19 vaccine to Pfizer. (A week later, Moderna’s vaccine, which is very similar to Pfizer’s in design and performance, also got EUA.)
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Two shots of saltwater?
The weekend after the Pfizer vaccine’s breakthrough was an emotional roller coaster. Relief and glee jockeyed with the anxiety of how long it would be until my family could get vaccinated.
On top of all that, as one of the 43,548 worldwide participants in the Pfizer trial, I was obsessing over the obvious question, the elephant in the room: Did I get the vaccine or did I get the placebo? The trial was blinded, meaning that neither the participants nor the investigators at the trial site knew who got which — and for good reason: If participants knew they’d been vaccinated, they might engage in more risky behaviors, which could make the vaccine seem less efficacious than it was.
I had a nagging suspicion that I got two shots of saltwater because I had zero arm…