Seattle’s tech community is well-represented in the first group of participants to get their shots in the first U.S. clinical trial of a vaccine for coronavirus.
The first volunteer in line was Jennifer Haller, a veteran of the late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch space venture. Haller now serves as operations manager for Attunely, a Seattle startup that uses machine learning to help debt collection agencies improve their recovery strategies.
“I’m doing great,” Haller told GeekWire from her home after she got her injection at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Research Institute in Seattle. “My arm isn’t sore at all, so it’s even better than a flu shot.”
Attunely’s founder and CEO, Scott Ferris, was supportive of Haller’s participation. “We are very proud of her!” he told GeekWire in an email.
One of Haller’s jobs as operations manager is to keep up team morale, which has become more challenging now that everyone is working at home due to the coronavirus outbreak. “We’re going to do a virtual Happy Hour on Zoom on Wednesday,” she said.
Haller said she feels lucky to be in a position to contribute to containing the outbreak. She’s healthy at the age of 43, she has a stable salaried position that lets her work at home, and her children (aged 13 and 16) can take care of themselves. Her duties as a study participant don’t go much further than monitoring her vital signs, keeping up a daily journal and checking in with Kaiser Permanente for a second shot and a few blood draws.
“I’m just so privileged that I can do something like this,” she said. In her view, the coronavirus crisis highlights the need for a bigger social safety net, with access to affordable health care, affordable housing and job security.
Civic values were also on the mind of Microsoft network engineer Neal Browning, the second volunteer getting a shot at Kaiser Permanente. While waiting for his injection, Browning told The Associated Press his young daughters were proud that he signed up for the trial.
“Every parent wants their children to look up to them,” AP quoted him as saying.
Coronavirus Live Updates: The latest COVID-19 developments in Seattle and the world of tech
Today marked the start of the first phase of a clinical trial focusing on Moderna’s mRNA-1273 vaccine, which uses an inactive fragment of messenger RNA from the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus to coax a response from the body’s immune system. Phase 1’s goal is to make sure that the vaccine is safe for humans, and that it sparks the expected immune response. There’s no risk of infection with the virus itself.
Over the course of the next year to 18 months, a research team led by Kaiser Permanente’s Lisa Jackson aims to verify that the vaccine is effective against the virus – which has killed more than 7,100 people around the world, including at least 73 in the U.S.
The trial is being funded by the National Institutes of Health on an accelerated schedule. The quest for a vaccine is so urgent that federal regulators allowed NIH and Moderna to go straight from the lab to human clinical trials, without waiting for experiments with lab animals to run their course.
Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, marveled at how quickly the process is moving ahead.
“You might recall that when we first started, I said it would be two to three months, and if we did that, that would be the fastest we’ve ever gone from obtaining the [genetic] sequence to being able to do a Phase 1 trial,” Fauci told reporters at the White House during a coronavirus task force briefing. “This has been now 65 days, which I believe is the record.”
Kaiser Permanente put out the call for 45 healthy Seattle-area volunteers, aged 18 to 55, to participate in the trial. The trial’s participants will be paid $100 for each clinic visit, and researchers will follow them through two rounds of injections and additional checkups over the coming year.
In addition to Haller and Browning, two other volunteers received their shots today – and if you’d like to join them, it’s not necessarily too late: Kaiser Permanente is still recruiting volunteers via corona.kpwashingtonresearch.org.
This is an updated version of a report that was first published at 10:50 p.m. PT March 15.