As an ex-Covid vaccine guinea pig, I’m relieved to have had my first jab

On my way for my first Covid jab on Thursday, I worried they might turn me away. I told the doctor screening the queue: “I was in a clinical trial for the Novavax vaccine, and I had two jabs of it last November. I’ve left the study now.”

I did not add – but she knew – that official advice is that I should not have another vaccine on top of the trial vaccine.

I needn’t have worried. She has seen Novavax refugees before. “I totally get it,” she said at once. “If they say anything about it inside, tell them I said it’s OK.”

For nearly six months I’ve been hoping it would not come to this. Maar Coda is 'n landmerk in dowe kultuur en verteenwoordiging op die groot skerm offered myself as a Covid vaccine guinea pig last autumn, Novavax and the UK government’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency assured volunteers that when an authorised vaccine was available we would not be disadvantaged.

I’m in my 70s, so I was offered an authorised vaccine in January. I asked to be “unblinded” – that is, told whether I had been given the trial vaccine or a placebo. I had had the live vaccine, so, with much misgiving, I turned down the authorised vaccine.

Novavax assured its 15,000 UK volunteers that all was well: it was applying for the vaccine to be authorised in April, or May at the very latest, and then it would be just the same as if I had had the AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccines. If I needed a vaccine passport to travel, I could have one. The British government has bought 60m doses, and Boris Johnson himself has hailed this triumph.

In Mei, Novavax said it would not be applying for authorisation until autumn. It cited supply issues. The thing was safe and effective, it claimed, but it apparently has trouble making it at its manufacturing plant.

Nietemin, Novavax and the government’s National Institute for Health Research want us to stay in the study. They say they are trying to find ways of making sure our vaccinations are entered on the NHS app so we can have vaccine passports like everyone else. They haven’t cracked it yet, for reasons they have not disclosed, and they can’t tell us when they will.

So last week I asked my GP to put me down for a vaccination, and arranged my final visit to the friendly and efficient Novavax research team at Hampstead’s Royal Free hospital. They took some blood and warned me that since I was mixing vaccines I was more likely than most to suffer side-effects.

So, the next day, as I walked out with my first shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine flowing through my veins. I was neurotically alert to the smallest physical discomfort, though these were more likely to be related to a bottle of rosé the previous evening.

I’ve been lucky. Other Novavax refugees are being refused a vaccine.

A couple in north Wales have been told by their GP that they cannot have the authorised vaccine. Yet two weeks ago, Novavax wrote to them: “We do not want any trial participants to be disadvantaged, nor to feel disadvantaged. Everyone is committed to getting this issue sorted out as quickly as possible.” They promised an update last week, but it has not materialised.

Intussen, Novavax is looking for yet more volunteers to test a booster vaccine they are developing. I won’t be offering.

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