'People Don't Need to Be Afraid': Pfizer Vaccine Trial Participant Shares Experience

Andrew Rubin gearing up to receive his COVID-19 vaccine.

Andrew Rubin

With the first COVID-19 vaccine approval under our belts—Pfizer-BioNTech received emergency use authorization (EUA) from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on December 11—the first doses of the authorized vaccine are now being disseminated and administered throughout the country. Healthcare workers are first in line. On December 14, U.S. healthcare workers began to receive their first doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

But the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines have been in testing for months, and many people have been partaking in clinical trials since as early as March, doing their part to make these EUAs possible today. Andrew Rubin, the senior vice president for clinical affairs and ambulatory care at NYU Langone Medical Center, was one of the first individuals to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine after taking part in their Phase 1 clinical trial. He received both doses in May. 

Now, almost seven months later, Rubin wants to encourage others to get vaccinated. 

Rubin, who is also the host of HealthCare Connect on Sirius Satellite/XM Radio, spoke to Verywell about his experience participating in the Pfizer-BioNTech Phase 1 clinical trial, the symptoms he experienced post-shot, and why you should get vaccinated for COVID-19—if you can—once your turn arrives. 

Verywell Health: How did you hear about the vaccine trial and why did you decide to participate?

Andrew Rubin: I heard about the clinical trial because I work for NYU Langone health. I know the physician Mark J. Mulligan, MD, who is running the clinical trial at one of the vaccine sites. So I reached out to him. 

Given it was a Phase 1 trial, at that point, it was just about safety. It was very early on. So they were still looking for participants willing to enroll. It was actually easier to enroll than one might think, because people aren't always so willing to enroll in a Phase 1 trial—since people tend to be a little more anxious.

I wanted to help them out. I work on the business side of health care. In the division I run, we were actively working during the pandemic, but we weren't on the front line, like our nurses and doctors taking care of people who had it. So I thought it would be an appropriate way for me to participate and contribute to the effort that is being undertaken across the system.

Verywell Health: Were there certain eligibility requirements to be part of the trial? 

Andrew Rubin: The eligibility requirements were I'd say, fairly strict. For starters, you couldn't have had COVID-19, obviously, because it was testing immunity to it. And in Phase 1, they were really only looking for healthy volunteers. They were not looking for people who had any comorbidities or other health conditions. In a Phase 1 trial about safety, you want to make sure you're only dealing with healthy people because you want to make sure they can tolerate whatever it is that you're asking them to do.

There was a fairly comprehensive clinical questionnaire. Lots of blood was drawn and tested. I had a physical at the vaccine center. So I would say I underwent a couple of days worth of medical evaluation to make sure that I was healthy enough to meet the criteria of the study.

Verywell Health: Did you experience any symptoms after each shot?

Andrew Rubin: I did. I was one of the people who did get some aches and pains. I had a low-grade fever, but nothing lasted more than 24 hours—certainly nothing that I would describe as debilitating or a reason to be anxious about getting the vaccine. I’m also fairly athletic. So, not knowing what was going to happen, I went for a six-mile run right after that afternoon. I didn't get sick until the evening. So I may have enhanced the symptoms. They said live your life normally, but it may be possible I exacerbated some of the symptoms by not resting after I got the shot.

Verywell Health: Where did you receive the vaccine and what was the process of receiving the vaccine like?

Andrew Rubin: It was on the main campus of our health systems [NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City]. Every time I came in, [healthcare workers] always tested me for COVID-19 to make sure I was COVID-19 free. They always did what they called “safety bloods.” There were two samples of blood drawn: one went to Pfizer and the other went to our own [NYU] laboratory. Our own doctors monitored the safety bloods to make sure that both before the vaccination and after, there were no dangerous side effects or adverse reactions in the body from the vaccine.  

They took 10 tubes of blood, and I think eight of them went to Pfizer to be analyzed. Then, I would wait about a half-hour for the vaccine administrator because it was a blinded study. No one in the study center actually knew what I was getting. They had to wait for the person who had the vaccines to bring them over from the laboratory. 

Once they brought the vaccine in, the nurse that was examining me left the room and the injection nurse injected me. Then, I’d wait 30 minutes to make sure there were no side effects or allergic reactions to the shot. And then I went about my day and went back to work. The team gave me emergency numbers to call; they were pretty on top of it to make sure that I both felt safe and that, if anything should happen, I was safe.

If you don't have an iPhone, they give you an iPhone, and if you have an iPhone, they give you an app to download. I had to record my symptoms on an app every day for the first week after receiving the vaccine. Now every Friday night at 6 p.m., I log in and answer a few simple questions on the app about how I'm doing. It’s called the COVID-19 Diary.

Verywell Health: How comfortable did you feel with the process and the information they provided you with?

Andrew Rubin: They were terrific. All the information that I have about my experience and which vaccine trial I'm in is all from what I've gotten myself—I haven't heard from Pfizer. No one's actually told me that I didn't get a placebo. The reason I know I didn't get a placebo is because I got sick after both shots. 

Verywell Health: Prior to your participation, what did you know about the vaccine development?

Andrew Rubin: At that point, I knew it was all very hopeful. We were at the height of the pandemic ravaging New York and the Northeast, and it had not yet spread to the rest of the country terribly. But people were very anxious and everybody had been in lockdown for two months. Clearly, people were monitoring the results of the Phase 1 trial, because everyone had a vested interest in seeing if it worked or not. I had always been fairly optimistic that, you know, the timelines would play out the way they're playing now. If you recall, the government was saying probably next summer is when we would get it and here we are now. It’s out before Christmas, and we're vaccinating our healthcare workers. So it’s pretty remarkable how fast we've been able to do this.

Verywell Health: Any advice you’d like to share with those looking to get vaccinated?

Andrew Rubin: I would say the two following things. One, is that it works. It really works. And two, that it's very safe. I hear a lot of people are waiting—even healthcare workers—because they're anxious, and they want to see how their colleagues react. Then I remind people that I took it seven months ago. I'm still followed and examined by the vaccine center. I still have 10 toes and 10 fingers. I feel great. I've had my annual physical in between. My blood work came back perfectly. I'm totally healthy. I haven't had any illnesses. I feel terrific. People really don't need to be afraid of the vaccine because it's safe. I've had it for six months. I've had no lasting side effects. It’s worth it. The liberation you feel knowing you're vaccinated is very powerful.

Verywell Health: What was receiving it like for you, emotionally? Since you were in New York when the height of the pandemic hit.

Andrew Rubin: When I saw the Phase 1 trial results when they were published I was very emotional because I volunteered for this thing. I didn't know if it was going to work. I didn't know if it was dangerous or not. Then a couple of months later, when they published the findings, and you saw the immune response was so powerful, and that this vaccine was actually going to work. I was able to contribute to that. 

There weren't that many people in the Phase 1 trial in the country [195 people]. Only a subset of those people got the vaccine that actually works because they were testing different dosages and different vaccine types. I happened to hit the jackpot and got the dose that worked in the vaccine category that worked. So I was both very emotional and grateful that I came through it healthy.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

1 Source
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  1. Businesswire. Pfizer and BioNTech Share Positive Early Data on Lead mRNA Vaccine Candidate BNT162b2 Against COVID-19. August 20, 2020.

By Paola de Varona
Paola de Varona is an associate news editor at Verywell Health who graduated with a master's degree from the Medill School of Journalism.