Novavax vaccine: LBC's Rachael Venables shares her experience of taking part in trial

29 January 2021, 13:25 | Updated: 29 January 2021, 13:35

LBC's Rachael Venables took part in the Novavax Vaccine trial
LBC's Rachael Venables took part in the Novavax Vaccine trial. Picture: PA
Rachael Venables

By Rachael Venables

Of all the brilliant ‘breaking news’ alerts I’ve seen about the vaccine-effort, for me, last night’s from Novavax might just be the best.

Last summer the Government put out an appeal for anyone interested in taking part in a vaccine trial.

On a bit of a whim, I put my name down, and a few months later I got an email - asking if I was still interested, as there were slots going on the Novavax vaccine phase-three trial. I had a telephone interview with a nurse to check my suitability, and was booked in for an appointment at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital a fortnight later.

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Since then, I’ve been three times to the trial clinic in West London. Twice to get my jabs - 21 days apart - and lastly for a quick check-up and some blood tests.

I’m booked in again in February, and will keep going back with larger intervals throughout the rest of the year, as they monitor me for antibodies, side effects and any hint of a Covid-19 infection.

So far, every time I’ve gone I’ve found myself sitting next to a bed in a curtained-off, hospital-style bay, surrounded by dozens of nervous-looking participants of all ages, as well as a small army of doctors and nurses working quickly but calmly through the ward.

During my first appointment, back in November, they went through my full medical history, conducted a series of tests, and reminded me with almost alarming regularity that “this is entirely voluntary, and you can leave at any time if you want to.”

I’d be lying if I said a part of me didn’t consider running for the door as the nurse approached me with the needle! But, as soon as it was done I felt a real sense of relief, and more than a little bit of pride, that finally, after an awful year there was something I could really do to help.

I didn’t experience a single side-effect after either dose, not even a sore arm, so I’ve always assumed a little glumly that I was given the placebo.

I’ll find out the answer at the end of the year. The nurses also sent me off with a number of home-test kits, and the strict instructions to get in touch if I ever come down with Covid symptoms.

Of course, I still don’t know whether I got given the real vaccine, or the placebo. The whole point of the trial is that nobody patient facing should know.

It’s a totally randomised, 50:50 shot, so when you go back for check ups and bloods they treat everyone the same. It makes sense of course, the whole point for the study is that we all go back living our lives with a normal amount of caution, as they wait for participants to start catching Covid, and compare results across the two groups.

In this trial, we know there were 62 positive cases, 56 people who caught Covid were in the placebo group, and 6 people had been given the vaccine.

Reassuringly though, none of the six people who were really vaccinated ended up being seriously ill with the virus, which is really all we need in a vaccine to be able to end this crisis. Either way, I’ve had no side affects, nor thankfully, any sign of a Covid-19 infection.

We didn’t know it at the time, but back in November as the trail was ramping up, the new ‘Kent’ coronavirus variant was silently ripping its way through the South East.

For the vaccine-makers that had the fortunate result that they ended up test their product both on the old and new strains, as 50% of the positive infections ended up being the new strain. Against the former form of coronavirus, Novavax’s vaccine was 95.6% effective, against the new one, it was 85.6% effective. So mutations do have an impact, but thankfully this one at least has been small.

In the meantime, if I’m offered a Covid jab of my own I can choose to be ‘unblinded;’ told whether or not I’m on the real vaccine and then I can choose to take the vaccine from the NHS.