Why these volunteers chose to participate in a coronavirus vaccine trial

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CNN's Brooke Baldwin speaks to one of the first people to test the coronavirus vaccine as part of a clinical trial in Washington.

Posted: Mar 18, 2020 6:00 AM
Updated: Mar 18, 2020 6:00 AM

Neal Browning and Jennifer Haller are stepping up in a big way to help researchers find a vaccine to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

The two are in a group of 45 healthy individuals who have volunteered for a coronavirus vaccine trial in Washington state.

They each spoke to CNN Tuesday about why they chose to take part in the trial.

Speaking with CNN's Brooke Baldwin, Browning said he's doing it to "make this end as quickly as possible for the rest of the world," adding, "If I'm healthy enough to be able to contribute research and hoping you find a vaccine sooner than later, why wouldn't I?"

Haller said it was easy decision for her.

"I am so privileged in my life to be healthy and to have family and friends around," she told CNN's Chris Cuomo. "I work for a company that allows the flexibility to take time off and to work remotely whenever I need. I just have a huge privilege that I can do those things."

"And so so many Americans right now do not have that privilege and are concerned about paying rent, certainly losing their jobs, how they're going to feed their family. There's so much that other people are worried about right now."

She says she feels "blessed" she has the opportunity to do something that might bring change.

"We all feel so helpless right now," she said. "And I actually am getting to do something here."

The trial

The vaccine trial, funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, started Monday and is expected to last for six weeks. It is run at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle.

There is currently no vaccine for Covid-19.

Phase I of the trial is meant to establish the vaccine is safe and induces a desired response from participants' immune systems. Proving that the vaccine is effective in preventing coronavirus infection, however, will require follow-up studies involving many more participants, which will take many more months.

The first step was making sure everyone was healthy, Browning said.

"Everyone went through a physical, blood draws, tests to make sure that everyone looked good; after that we were administered vaccine," he said.

There is no actual virus in this vaccine, Brown was told -- "they're using a new technique that basically teaches cells in my body to build protein structures that resemble the outer shell of the actual coronavirus. My body should react to that and see it as a foreign invader, attack it, and learn how to combat that structure that's been built."

Haller says she received her first vaccine Monday morning and had a follow-up phone call Tuesday and expects another on Wednesday. She'll go in for a blood draw in a week and have another draw done the week after that. And in about a month, she'll receive her second shot and go through that process again.

Meanwhile, Browning says he keeps a daily chart that includes information about his temperature, any potential side effects or any other factors of concern. Then each week he gets blood drawn.

"We then get blood drawn, to look and make sure the body is reacting the way it's expected to, producing the antigens that hopefully will allow us to combat coronavirus should we become exposed to it," Browning said.

He'll also go for a second dose a month after he received his first one, along with more monitoring and blood draws.

Browning said he didn't tell his family he was going to volunteer for the study until the last minute, and now they think it's "pretty cool that Dad's doing something like this."

"I think it's important for them to learn that as a member of society, you need to help do whatever you can, but also that there's 44 other people as part of the study," he said. "It's not just Dad out there trying to make the world a better place."

Haller says she hopes what is happening in the country serves as a wake-up call.

"This is a great opportunity for us to kind of wake up and to step out of that little bit and start thinking about others and having concerns for others and what they're going through at this time."

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