My friend told me to tell him if it killed him. It was June and I just applied for the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine test. Over the next two months, I received two recordings, three weeks apart. After the second dose, I tested for COVID-19 antibodies – a sign of successful vaccination – but never told me the result. At a time when coronavirus treatment options seemed bleak, my friend was skeptical about wisdom in accepting an untested vaccine.
I am happy to report that I am still alive. And according to recently announced preliminary results, the vaccine is well beyond expectations and 95% effective. Since then, we have also learned the success of the Moderna vaccination attempt.
This is all good news, because it means that we can finally turn a corner in defending against the virus, and because it shows once again the critical importance of science and vaccines.
Vaccines are the victims of their success
Over the past two decades, a virulent “anti-vaxx” movement has grown in this country. Some parents believe that vaccines cause autism (no); others believe that being held accountable for refusing vaccination violates their rights (the Supreme Court has found otherwise). Since I supported legislation in Albany, New York last year to strengthen vaccination requirements against schoolchildren during last year’s measles epidemic, which infected more than a thousand New Yorkers, mostly children, I have been triggering a vaccine among vaccination activists.
COVID-19 vaccine trials: I took a coronavirus vaccine. Get the policy out of your introduction.
Anti-Vaxxers publicly heckled, raised anti-Semitic and homophobic slander, and threatened me on social media, including a doctoral image of my shared throat. Participating in the Pfizer test was a personal way for me to show my lasting commitment to science with that intent.
The truth is that vaccines are victims of their own success. A generation ago, parents still remembered the raging epidemics of measles, mumps, and polio. But thanks to science, medicine, and American ingenuity — in short, thanks to vaccinations — we have been able to triumph over these childhood diseases. In recent years, anti-vaxxers have drawn attention to the rare side effects of vaccination, conveniently ignoring their benefits because we have forgotten what they prevented.
COVID vaccines, when proven to be safe and effective, remind us how much vaccination counts.
Inside the Pfizer test
My experience with the Pfizer experiment quickly made it clear to me that vaccines can have really unpleasant side effects. It wasn’t until a week later that I was sure I wasn’t receiving a placebo: I developed a weakened migraine after the first dose. The second dose was just as bad, with rapidly developing fever and pain, followed by chewing for a few days.
In both cases, the side effects dissipated as quickly as they arrived. And more importantly, the vaccine seemed to work. I am the only member of my family who was not infected with the virus this spring. My husband and our two little girls never had symptoms, but they all showed positive results on the antibodies several times, showing that they became infected. But I? All tests I performed before vaccination were negative for antibodies.
A few weeks after the second dose of the vaccine, I decided to test my effectiveness myself by performing an antibody test at a local health clinic. The results appeared in the early hours of the morning: I was positive not only for COVID antibodies, but at the highest measurable level.
The vaccine has worked. Then why did my friend doubt it? Like many people in New York, he viewed him as a “Trump vaccine”. And it’s true that the Trump administration has been a strong urge for drug manufacturers to give vaccinations to the public before election day. In response, states, including New York and California, are setting up their own vaccine approval bodies, and pharmaceutical companies, including Pfizer, have publicly committed to being driven only by science.
USA TODAY Editorial Board: Donald Trump blows away what’s left of his presidency when COVID-19 dies in excess of 250,000
However, some regulatory changes driven by the administration have been helpful.
Traditionally, cost-conscious pharmaceutical companies are moving slowly, starting with a product in Phase 1 of so-called testing and making sure it works before switching to larger (and expensive) Phases 2 and 3 trials. All these steps take place simultaneously – at great financial cost, but not in a way that sacrifices the scientific integrity of the process. Operation Warp Speed shifted the upfront costs of the early phase of the vaccination test from the private sector to the U.S. government. (Pfizer has not accepted this vaccine development grant, although it has contracted with the government for distribution.)
Yes, President Donald Trump was contradictory at every step and attacked public health officials. He has advanced game management ideas and conspiracy theories. And he even threatened to deliver any vaccine to people living in states where state leaders attacked it.
But my experience with the Pfizer experiment has shown that the system works. Scientists have done their job. The tests were safe. And now we are on the verge of a vaccine in record time. This is not a Trump or Biden vaccine – it is a scientifically proven vaccine and we need to trust it.
Brad Hoylman is a senator from New York State. Follow him on Twitter: @bradhoylman
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This article was originally published in the USA MA: COVID-19 Pfizer Vaccine: Don’t let anti-vaxxers discredit science