“You are basically tricking the immune system to making antibodies,” Dr. Diemert said. “So, if you are later exposed to Covid-19, the immune system recognizes it and says, ‘Wait,’ and then attacks it.”
Dr. Elissa Malkin, an assistant research professor, gave me a nasal swab for the coronavirus — I would be kicked out of the trial if it came back positive — and conducted a physical. The researchers even made me get a pregnancy test, which they insist on for all female volunteers. And they took my blood, filling up those little vials as I watched uneasily.
Dr. Malkin said that she had stopped watching the news because all of the talk about the politicization of the vaccine development process and whether one would be produced by Election Day was distracting. “You wake up excited and motivated” to work on cutting-edge science, she said, “but then you have to divorce yourself from the news.”
George Washington University had vaccinated 129 people since its share of the trials started. I would be No. 130. Altogether, Moderna planned to enroll 30,000 people in its trial. Half would be given the actual vaccine and half would get the placebo. The protocol called for two shots spaced a month apart.
Finally, it was time for my injection, which is when things got a little weird.
“We have to leave you now, because this is a double-blind study and we are blinded,” Dr. Malkin said. “You’ve been randomized.”
Before I could ask her to translate what she had just said, she was gone, and two nurses arrived with my vaccine. The first nurse left, and the second nurse, Linda Witkin, asked whether I was right-handed or left-handed, then proceeded to inject my right arm.
“Which one are you giving me, the vaccine or the placebo?” I asked. She gave me a look, clearly not pleased with my questioning.