November 2, 2020 at 10:59 am EST | by Parker Purifoy
NBC4 producer participates in coronavirus vaccine trial
Brandon Benavides (Photo courtesy of NBC Washington)

Tens of thousands of people are participating in vaccine trials to bring an end to the coronavirus pandemic which has killed millions worldwide. One of these test subjects is Brandon Benavides, a gay, Latino writer and producer for NBC4.

Benavides said he heard that several different trials were looking for more Black and Latino people to participate and he wanted to help out.  After being rejected from two trials, he was accepted into one conducted by Moderna, a Massachusetts-based Biotech firm. 

“When I started telling people what I did, my friend told me, ‘Well Brandon, you’re helping humanity.’ And I didn’t think about that until she said it,” he told the Washington Blade during a recent interview. “I didn’t quite think about the impact this could have on the world.”

Moderna’s vaccine, dubbed mRNA-1273, is currently in phase three of its testing process and the company is preparing to distribute up to 20 million doses throughout the country by the end of the year. 

Chief Medical Officer Tal Zaks told investors in an Oct. 29 conference call that 37 percent of their 30,000 person testing pool comes from “diverse communities” and two thirds are over the age of 45. 

“We’re ready,” Zaks said about distribution. “We expect MRNA-1273 to be distributed within existing infrastructure. There’s nothing new required that hasn’t already been used for years with many other vaccines.”

Benavides said he went through an extensive health screening before receiving his first dose in late September from the Optimal Research Clinic in Rockville, Md., although he isn’t sure whether the injection he received was the experimental vaccine. The trial is a double-blind study which means neither the subject nor the doctor administering the injection know if it’s the vaccine or a placebo. 

Benavides said he even had to look away so he couldn’t see the labels on the vaccine.

Moderna’s vaccine comes in two installments, 28 days apart. Benavides said he only noticed side effects after the second injection, which he received on Oct. 2. He said his temperature rose by one degree 30 minutes after the shot and when he woke up for his midnight shift at NBC, he experienced cold sweats and a headache which he said is “not normal” for him. 

Slightly concerned, he called the research clinic and received a call back the next day. The clinic told him that fatigue and the cold sweats were normal side effects of the vaccine. 

“This is really where I felt like a guinea pig because all I could do was just tell them what was happening to me,” he said. “I don’t know if I have the vaccine or the placebo but I feel like I do have it because I felt that reaction after the second dose.”

Benavides said he has felt fine since that day. 

Zaks told investors during last week’s conference call that the most common side effects of the vaccine are headache, fatigue, muscle pain, chills, and injection site pain which can be “mild to moderate in severity.” These symptoms are to be expected, Zaks said, and are caused when the vaccine prompts a response from the body’s immune system. 

“Importantly, there were no vaccine-related serious adverse events in this trial and no patterns of concern for any clinical labs,” he said.   

After getting the second dose, Benavides said he has started to slowly go out more often. He went to the grocery store for the first time in seven months and has restarted sessions with a personal trainer at the gym. 

“Even though I may have this layer of protection, the vaccine, I’m cognizant of what’s going on,” he said. “There’s all these people and they’re all touching all these things and I know I need to keep my distance and take precautions.” 

When reflecting on the study, Benavides said he will most likely never participate in a trial like this again. 

“I was scared for the whole process. But I prepared myself, I knew what I was getting myself into,” he said. “I do feel like a science experiment but I also feel that this is bigger than me.”

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