Coronavirus patient in first vaccine trial proud to be ‘helpful to humanity’

The first New York patients were dosed with a coronavirus vaccine at NYU Langone Health on Monday, and one trial volunteer says participating has been a deeply fulfilling experience for her.

“I heard about it through my husband,” says study participant Melissa in a video released by NYU Langone Health. Her last name is not provided, and her face is covered with a mask in the clip.

“He forwarded the email to me about information about the study and I thought oh, gosh, this is a no brainer for me because it seems like I could potentially qualify and we live so close,” she says, noting she lives within walking distance of a medical center in Manhattan. “[To] be helpful to humanity at this time, it’s just unprecedented.”

At a time when the world seems powerless in the face of the lethal virus, many have felt the same, eager to help find a vaccine and end COVID-19’s reign of terror. Researchers involved in the NYU Langone trial say, as a result, they had no trouble finding individuals to test their experimental vaccines.

“We’ve had an amazing response from potential participants, or volunteers, for our human vaccine research studies,” says Dr. Mark J. Mulligan, Director of NYU Langone’s vaccine center, in the same video. “So there’s great community interest in being a part of the solution, and I think people are motivated in most cases by altruism. They just want to help.”

The ease of finding volunteers has sped up the vaccine trial, which was already moving at an incredible rate thanks to modern technology and medicine.

“One of the things that’s remarkable about the coronavirus vaccine effort is that modern technologies are being used, like RNA, and it’s moving faster than ever before,” says Mulligan.

Researchers around the world are currently rushing to find a COVID-19 vaccine. At NYU Langone, the vaccine study consists of examining four different variations of messenger RNA, or mRNA, a natural substance in the body. “It’s actually the genetic instruction to our cells to make new proteins,” Mulligan explains. “With this vaccine, we will be delivering a messenger RNA. What we hope then is when the messenger RNA goes in it tells the cells to make the vaccine protein, which is actually the spike protein — that big red glob on all those cartoons you’ve seen of the virus.”

That’s the main target for antibodies, so if the vaccine instructs the cells to make that protein, the body will, in turn, make an immune response — namely, antibodies against that protein, which would provide protection against the novel coronavirus.

Langone is partnering with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer on the vaccine. Mulligan believes the company picked the NYU medical center not only because it was already equipped with the minds and tools to work on a vaccine, but because of its location at the American epicenter of the pandemic.

“They knew that New York was at the heart of this pandemic, that we were suffering greatly but that we also have a fighting spirit, and that we want to contribute and participate,” he says.

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