CEDAR RAPIDS — City Council member Ashley Vanorny was among the first Iowans to be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus thanks to her participation in Pfizer’s vaccine trials last year.
According to Iowa’s COVID-19 data as of Thursday, Vanorny is one of more than 131,000 Iowans who have received two doses of the vaccine. That’s just over 4 percent of the state’s population of about 3.12 million.
Vanorny, who is 35 and works in health care, recently told The Gazette that Wednesday marked her six-month anniversary of getting fully vaccinated. She had an appointment that day for more blood draws so that information will be used to see how long the Pfizer vaccine is effective.
As researchers wait for time to reveal more about the vaccines and the virus that has infected more than 330,000 Iowans, Vanorny is playing a key role in the scientific process — and the race to halt the spread of a virus that has taken more than 2 million lives worldwide.
Q: What motivated you to participate in the Pfizer vaccine trials at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics? How did you find out about the opportunity to participate?
A: I think this is my fourth or fifth vaccine trial. I’ve been participating in research trials like this since I was a kid ... I certainly went to school and was a STEM-educated collegiate. And from there because of my bachelor’s of science in psychology, we had to do research and I remember having to recruit my own patients and subjects for a study, and it was so difficult. And after that, I just always committed that if I ever qualified and had the time for any study that I would participate if I was able to.
So this was another vaccine trial that I participated in, but this one found me. The last one that I did was a chikungunya one, and that was a two-year longitudinal, and I had just finished that in December of 2019. So in July of 2020, the researcher that I had worked with with that, the nurse coordinator, had called me and said, “I know that you’re really into this stuff. You like doing this and were successful recently, staying with a longitudinal trial. Are you interested in doing this?” And of course I said yes.
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I qualified because I wasn’t pregnant or breastfeeding, which was difficult for somebody (who’s) a female my age, as well as being on the front line, so the fact that I worked in a medical setting was an important qualifier as well.
Q: Going through the trials, what is asked of you as a participant and now on an ongoing basis? What are some of the things you need to do?
A: Every single day you’re tracking in an app that Pfizer has you download, and there is compensation for each one of those checkpoints, so when in-person there’s a different amount, and then there’s like $5 for every entry that you have. So it’s daily for the first week after the vaccination and then every time in between there. So, I think it was Aug. 6 I had my first appointment and vaccination, so from Aug. 6 for seven days, I had to record each day. I had a caliper that was showing the redness and swelling, so I had to measure that and enter that into this app diary on my phone. I had to check my temperature several times throughout the day and record the highest-recorded temps, and then any other symptoms I might have been experiencing, so it’s really important to basically keep your normal routine so that if you are getting really good information you’re not changing anything, like eating something funky that could have been disguised as symptoms, so that you’re just trying to really understand what is the difference with this vaccine or saline that’s been introduced. And then since that September appointment, every single week then I’ve been checking in. I do mine on Friday, but every single week then I check in. It’s like two minutes just confirming that I’ve had no symptoms, unless there are symptoms, and if there are symptoms then I enter that.
Q: Did you feel any symptoms from the vaccination, and if so, what did you experience?
A: After the first vaccination, I didn’t have any symptoms other than mild intramuscular soreness from the shot and then a little bit of swelling, but it was pretty minor — nothing that was more noticeable than getting your annual flu shot. And then I would say that muscle pain from the site injection, that subsided within a couple of days, I didn’t really notice it. If I would lift my shoulder or my arm or anything like that, I didn’t feel anything.
After the second vaccination — I think that was on the 27th — when I had that one, I didn’t feel anything at first, other than the normal muscle soreness around the injection site, even a little bit of swelling ... And then about 12 hours after that vaccination ... I just started to feel a little bit lethargic, and I took my temperature and I had a slight fever, and was just starting to get kind of achy. And as I was trying to go to bed that night, it started to get progressively worse. I always recorded it and felt like it was a 4 out of a 10 on a pain scale, so I didn’t feel great. I wanted to definitely stay in bed and just rest.
... I had a fever about 101, and then on the outside was feeling clammy and sweaty, just what chills are. And so it was a weird combination where my immune system was kicking in, but it’s this very conflicting feeling of being warm but also very cold at the same time. When I woke up that next morning, though, I no longer had the chills, so it was just feeling kind of tired and achy, and I think from the onset again so ... that took about 12-24 hours to subside completely.
Q: Have your pandemic behaviors and COVID-19 precautions changed at all?
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A: There’s still a 5 percent chance that I could get COVID. I’ve kept my behaviors the same. I also think that being in the position that I am, I don’t want to stop masking or stop double-masking, and potentially give somebody else the impression that it’s now safe. I have a lot more protection than most of the general public right now because I was in this vaccine trial, but I am still being very vigilant about my practices and trying to role model that, because it’s not set like safe enough for all of us yet. So the risk to me is very low right now, but I think it’s just good to keep up those practices until we all get to that point.
And I would say for anybody as well, something that’s really important to remember is that after the second phase of vaccination, you might not feel great. For 24 hours, it’s not going to be terrible pain, you just might feel uncomfortable for 12 to 24 hours. However, it is still so much better than having to live in fear and potentially be on a ventilator without this vaccination, so it’s just really important, I think, that anybody who’s eligible and able to get vaccinated does, because the risk otherwise of ending up struggling for air and not having that lung capacity is so much worse than 12 to 24 hours of uncomfortableness.
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