‘It’s worth it’: Trial volunteer encourages Pfizer vaccine despite temporary side effects

‘It’s worth it’: Trial volunteer encourages Pfizer vaccine despite temporary side effects
Jim Jarrad was one of thousands who took part in a double-blind Pfizer Vaccine Trial at Saint Francis Hospital. He says that while he encourages everyone to take the vaccine once it's made available, people should be prepared to experience side effects (Source: NBC12)

POWHATAN, Va. (WWBT) - As Jim Jarrard decorates the Christmas tree on the dock of his lakeside Powhatan home, he says he’s heading into the holiday season with the gift of reassurance.

He was one of thousands who took part in a double-blind Pfizer Vaccine Trial at Saint Francis Hospital in Midlothian. Now, he may be immune to COVID-19.

“They give you the shot, it was in my right arm, and you could feel a tingle,” said Jarrard. “The first shot was in September and the second shot, three weeks later, was in October.”

And though Jim doesn’t know for sure if he was in the test group, he says it definitely felt like he was after receiving his second dose.

“I’m 90-something percent sure I got the vaccine, because I got the side effects,” said Jarrard. “They said I might get them if I got the vaccine, and everything the doctors have said has been exactly on target.”

Jim says following the second shot, he experienced body aches, chill and a fever.

“For the second shot, at least plan to take the next day off,” said Jarrard. “I slept longer than normal and woke up with a fever of 101, as they said might happen. Then four o’clock, like they said might happen, the fever broke. It was 101.5 through the day, and then I felt great. They said the vaccine might pass, and it did.”

Jarrard says the worst of the side effects lasted less than a day: a phenomenon which doctors informed him was a good sign that the vaccine was doing its job.

“Getting the side effect shows that your body is doing what it’s intended to do,” said Jarrard.

VCU Medical Center Interim Chief Medical Officer Dr. David Lanning says that based on the data from Pfizer’s trials, the majority of side effects include mild to moderate cases of fatigue or fever. This response occurs when the human body is building antibodies.

“There have been a fair number of side effects, but mostly mild and moderate, such as swelling, some discomfort at the sight, maybe a fever and a little bit of fatigue,” said Lanning. “The important thing is that the vast majority of the symptoms are mild, some moderate and very, very few that are severe.”

Lanning says that according to data from Pfizer’s trials, the test group only experienced slightly higher instances of fatigue than the placebo group. He adds there have been reports of a condition known as Bell’s palsy — which is a temporary weakness or paralysis of the muscles — though the instances were rare.

“Nothing has identified any significant side effects that are clearly related to the vaccine and I think people have to realize that we’re talking about 30,000 and 40,000 people in these trials that would really demonstrate if there were side effects,” said Lanning. “It has been proven in these trials with tens of thousands of patients that the virus is safe.”

Lanning notes that moat of the skepticism surrounding the Pfizer vaccine comes from the fact that the vaccine was created and approved in the span of several months. He wants to assure those people who are on the fence about taking the vaccine that no shortcuts have been taken on developing the drug.

“I think what people have to remember is that there has been a tremendous infusion of resources to make this vaccine in a timely manner, such that people in those companies as well as the federal government and other agencies really put everything aside and focused solely on producing a vaccine that was safe,” said Lanning.

Lanning said taking the vaccine will not put anyone at increased risk for contracting COVID-19 because the vaccine itself does not contain any active or dormant forms of the virus.

“It’s not really a live virus like some vaccines are, it’s really just a particle that then your body responded to,” said Lanning “Your body is reacting to the vaccine. It means that your body is mounting a response to the small particles that were injected. If you were to be exposed to the virus in the future, your body would fight it off. So it’s actually a good thing that your body is having a bit of a fever and reaction to the vaccine.”

For the next two years, Jarrard says he will continue to monitor his condition with Pfizer through an app as part of the trial. Though possibly immune, he says he will continue wearing a mask and keeping a safe social distance from others. He says he will also continue encouraging others to take the vaccine once it is made available to the public.

“I think it’s worth it to trust where we are now with this vaccine. It really allows you to have a really calm feeling for the future, not only for yourself, but so that you’re really part of the solution,” said Jarrard. “A few side effects are better than getting it, right?”

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