A First Step
In such a short period of time, the world may have come to a complete stop. Economies have crashed, countries have shut down, and people have self-isolated to prevent an increased spread of the coronavirus. However, in times of global crisis, there are heroes that have emerged from the smoke: Our first responders, essential/healthcare workers, and scientists have been doing what they can on various fronts to contain COVID-19 and flatten the curve of new infections. Everybody has been chipping in to help combat this novel virus. Neal Browning is one such person, who has volunteered his body as a testing ground for a potential vaccine for COVID-19 through the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (he was the second person to receive the shot in the study).
Browning, a resident of Washington, first discovered information about the vaccine trial through a friend on Facebook. After doing some research on the process, he concluded that “the rewards that could be reached from this, if we could get something out there to help the rest of the world, far outweighed whatever minimal risks I saw.” The study needed extremely healthy people, which required Browning to go through rigorous testing: looking deep into Browning’s medical history to check whether he had any disqualifying medical conditions and a thorough physical examination to ensure that Browning meets the health standards to advance to the next step.
On March 16, Browning received the vaccine injection. Developed by biotechnology company Moderna, along with researchers from the National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the vaccine itself does not have a dead or weakened version of the coronavirus. Instead, it is a new method of vaccination, in which they use “messenger RNA, which is basically a set of instructions that goes into your cells and reprograms your DNA, much like a virus would.” While a virus reprograms the cells to create more of its kind, this particular vaccine would reprogram Browning’s cells to produce protein structures that represent the outer shell of the coronavirus. The intended goal of this method is to get the body to have an immune reaction that teaches its white blood cells how to create antibodies to attack and destroy the coronavirus shell. If that works, this vaccine would allow the body to recognize the virus as a foreign invader more quickly and begin attacking it.
After the vaccination, Browning didn’t notice any health issues, and everything was quite normal. He kept a daily log, monitoring any changes, and reported his temperature to make sure that he didn’t have a fever. He was quarantining at home with his family and taking extra measures to avoid any possible contact with the virus in order not to taint the results of the study.
Moderna announced on May 18 that their closely-watched early-stage human trial for a coronavirus vaccine produced COVID-19 antibodies in all 45 participants. “The vaccine trial is looking to be successful. All participants have created antibodies – even the smaller-dose, first group I am in had antibodies in levels similar to those found in people who recovered from COVID-19,” Browning says with excitement.
On July 14, the company said that its potential vaccine to prevent COVID-19 produced a “robust” immune response in all 45 patients in its early-stage human trial, according to a study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.
This virus has put things into perspective for Browning. He realized that life is fragile and that what seemed so important before the pandemic means little in the grand scheme of things. This study has allowed him to “give some positive hope,” inspiring his children to step up and “help the greater good of mankind” if the need arises in their future. No matter how big or small, in times of crisis, the actions of people like Browning are greatly appreciated and prove once again how we come together to take care of one another and find positive solutions.
Writer: Hazel Mekkattukulam
Photographer: Ron Contarsy (for Highmark Studios)
Editor: Eiko Watanabe
Special thanks to EPK Media (@myepk & @epkmedia - epkmedia.com)