WA Pfizer vaccine trial participants share experiences for the first time

People in western Washington who put their health on the line to test the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine before the Food and Drug Administration gave it the green light are sharing their experiences for the first time.

KIRO 7 talked with people who helped test the Moderna vaccine, but only about 100 people in western Washington were part of the Pfizer trial.

“It was a calculated risk, I guess you could say,” said Kristine Crawford, a pharmacist. She and her husband, Joel, are parents to two children and both decided to participate in the Pfizer trial.

“We talked about it a lot,” Crawford said. “My husband is a Black man, and we wanted to play a part in helping put out this vaccine in any way we could,” she said.

She said the biggest reason she wanted to share their experience is to help build confidence in the vaccine.

“It’s discouraging for me to hear people question whether it’s safe or whether they should be getting it, knowing how much work goes into getting it to this point. So I really wanted to speak up to encourage people to get the vaccine,” Crawford said.

Dr. Carla Greenbaum is the lead investigator for the Pfizer trial at Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason. She said knowing they played a role in helping a vaccine get authorized — and seeing health care workers get the first doses — has been incredibly emotional.

“It’s huge milestone. It’s giving people hope; it’s light at the end of the tunnel,” Greenbaum said.

She said the hundred or so people in western Washington who participated in the Pfizer-BioNTech trial showed side effects on a similar level to numbers recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“You should know you might be feeling bad for the next day or so, but that’s OK,” Greenbaum said.

The data shows after the second shot for people 16-55 years old:

  • About 78% of people experienced pain at the injection site (compared to 12% who got the placebo).
  • 16% of vaccine receivers reported a fever (compared to none who got the placebo).
  • 35% reported chills (compared to 4% who got the placebo).
  • And more than half reported both fatigue and headache — though about a quarter of placebo receivers also reported those symptoms.

People older than 55 years were less likely to experience any of those side effects.

As for those who are worried about potential long-term impacts?

“I’m not concerned about that. This is really, just really using the body’s own immune system to make a normal response. We would not anticipate there would be any long-term effects,” Greenbaum said.

Crawford said she and her husband did not experience any side effects, which could either mean they responded particularly well to the vaccine or got the placebo. But they won’t know until Pfizer unblinds the study. Crawford is considered a health care worker in Group 1A and said she plans to get the vaccine if it turns out she received the placebo. Her husband, an arborist, is in Group 2.

“My hope is just that people will get it, and it’ll help save some lives,” Crawford said.

Benaroya Research Institute has already launched a new study to test the blood of health care workers before and after they receive the Pfizer vaccine and plans to follow up with those health care workers for a long time to come.