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‘It’s a means to an end’: CR City Councilmember Ashley Vanorny shares experience in Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine trial

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Cedar Rapids City Councilmember Ashley Vanorny is one of more than 40,000 participating in Pfizer’s large-scale COVID-19 vaccine trial. She is one of 270 participants at the University of Iowa’s site. — photo from Ashley Vanorny’s Twitter account

Cedar Rapids City Councilmember Ashley Vanorny said her decision to participate in Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine trial was “a very calculated risk but one that was good and necessary to take.”

Vanorny is one of 270 volunteers enrolled at the University of Iowa’s study site. Overall, there are more than 40,000 people participating in the international clinical trial testing the experimental COVID-19 vaccine — and there might be good news ahead.

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech announced on Monday that the two-dose vaccine was found to be more than 90 percent effective in the first set of results.

Dr. Patricia Winokur, executive dean at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine and principal investigator for the UI study, said this is an “excellent result [and] much better than anyone had hoped.”

Once a vaccine is approved, the biggest obstacle will be distribution and compliance, Winokur said. Pfizer has said that it will have 30 to 40 million doses available by the end of the year. Who will get first priority has not been decided yet, but it is that groups who are at higher risk of infection will get it first. This could include health care workers, older adults and other individuals who are most vulnerable.

“It will take time for the public to achieve herd immunity,” Winokur said. “The sad thing is everyone is hoping that this vaccine will change their life tomorrow, but we need to hold on to those safety measures for another five or six months.”

Today was my 3rd #covid #vaccine study appointment. Pretty easy today, just two tubes of blood (to check for…

Posted by Councilmember Ashley Vanorny on Thursday, September 24, 2020

The clinical trial began in late July, and Winokur noted that enrollment had been enhanced compared to previous vaccine trials. She said this is a positive result and that the UI research team was encouraged to find participants who were especially vulnerable to COVID-19 infection.

“Many of [the participants] are healthcare workers,” Winokur explained. “We have UPS drivers, teachers, all sorts of individuals that in their daily life have a risk of coming in contact with others that have COVID-19.”

Vanorny is part of the administration team at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids.

Winokur said that it was important to enroll a diverse population in this trial to ensure the vaccine is effective in people of different ages, races and genders. According to Pfizer, about 42 percent of global participants and 30 percent of participants in the United States have “racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds.”

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The trial required participants to receive two intramuscular doses 28 days apart. Half the participants received the COVID-19 vaccine and the other half received a placebo injection.

Vanorny received her first dose on Aug. 6 and her second dose about a month later.

Vanorny recalled muscle soreness as a result of the first dose. It was the second dose that caused her to develop a mild headache, fever and cold sweats, which are common symptoms of the virus.

Based on Vanorny’s experience with the second dose, she feels confident that she received the vaccine, not the placebo.

“It was really neat,” Vanorny said. “We were kind of geeking out about it with my employee health and the research team at the university, talking about what was happening.”

Vanorny is patiently waiting for her next scheduled blood draw in January to see if her prediction was correct. The blood draw will examine if she has developed antibodies against the virus.

Vanorny is not new to vaccine trials at the UI. Her previous trial, the Chikungunya vaccine trial, was a two-year study that wrapped up last December. When Vanorny received a call recruiting her for the Pfizer trial, she felt confident in her decision.

“The research department at the University of Iowa keeps you so well informed,” Vanorny said. “Regardless of them wanting to find an outcome one way or the other, they want to have a good quality clinical trial.”

She had felt the same confidence during the COVID-19 vaccine trial.

“The good thing is that science is locked down with human trials,” Vanorny said. “It’s so refined that no one in healthcare is trying to rush something and do something unsafe.”

Even though her decision was a “very calculated risk,” Vanorny said the decision to take part in the vaccine trial was an easy one, given her experience in healthcare and her values as a community member.

“It’s not about me,” Vanorny said. “Research and healthcare is so at the forefront of everything I do, and the wellness of the community is so fundamental to who I am and what I prioritize my time with in my life. It’s a means to an end.”


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