TRIAL & ERROR
Why I Became an Ebola Vaccine Guinea Pig
Reddit user “Animostic_shep” says he’s the 13th person to receive a trial Ebola vaccine. The most enlightening moments from his AMA.
As the U.S. prepares to send 3,000 troops to West Africa to help fight the deadliest Ebola crisis on record—infecting nearly 5,000 people in West Africa and killing roughly half of them—the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has begun testing an Ebola vaccine in varying doses on humans.
One of NIAID’s vaccine recipients took to Reddit on Wednesday to document his experience in the trial. “Animostic_shep” says he’s the “13th human” to receive the vaccine in a group of 20 participants—and the third one to be injected with the vaccine’s highest dose. He claims he's pursuing a career in biomedical research and is using money from the trial to help pay for his grad school applications. NIAID declined to provide personal information about the study’s participants.
The Daily Beast combed the comment thread for the most enlightening questions and answers about the trial and Animostic_shep’s response to the vaccine.
Q: It definitely won’t give you Ebola, right? How does it work?
A: No. It’s a viral DNA vector. It causes some of my cells to express Ebola proteins to illicit an immune response. The DNA can’t replicate and will be gone within a couple weeks.
Q: What were some of the possible side effects the doctors warned you about?
A: The worst one is a severe allergic reaction, but they’ve never seen that in the VRC and they’re well prepared if it does. I have to report symptoms based on their scale of “mild, moderate, or severe” where mild isn’t enough to mess with my day-to-day, but severe is “incapacitating.”
Q: So there's no side effects like uncontrollable diarrhea or bleeding profusely through your eyes?
A: They only have a sample size of 12 (13 with me) so they really don't know for sure, but the components of the vaccine have been used in other studies, just not this combination. That gives them a general idea. The worst they’ve had is a fever from one of the other two people that got the same dose I did.
Q: How much money are they paying you to participate?
A: $100 for each of 2 pre-trial evaluations. $275 for today. $25 for keeping a 7-day diary. Then $175 each time I come back for blood draws. That amounts to almost $1700 over 48 weeks.
Q: That's not a lot of money to suffer from serious complications if the vaccine has flaws. What happens if you fall ill?
A: If anything goes wrong and is related to the study, I’ll get free treatment at the NIH Clinical Center. It’s full of most of the best doctors in the world, so I’m not worried. I also never signed anything that says I can’t sue them if something does go wrong. There’s actually a line in my consent form that says I can.
Q: When do you have to check in with doctors?
A: I call to check up tomorrow, then they’ll draw on Sunday, next Wednesday, 3 weeks after that, then it gets spaced further and further until the last one at 48 weeks.
Q: Do you have to be abnormally healthy to participate?
A: I’m supposed to maintain my lifestyle. I’ve been asked to not start any new diets or workouts. I’m not obligated to do so, but if I do it could cause fluctuations in my bloodwork, which will cause problems for the researchers and probably result in me getting stuck with more needles.
Q: Do you think you’ll feel pressure to go to Africa and help since you’re potentially safer than other health care workers? From yourself or outside influences?
A: I would actually love the opportunity, but I don’t even have a passport so it’s unlikely and no, I doubt I’ll be pressured.
Q: Where do I sign up to be a guinea pig?
A: If you're close to DC/MD/VA, check out the VRC website. If not, researchmatch.org is great.