This post (or, perhaps, a few), would be totally different from the stuff I usually write on my blog. I usually post cool stuff I make, tips’n’tricks, tech hacks and other useful stuff, but this time it’s something totally different.
This time I decided to be like an ork from Warhammer and sign up as a volunteer to
the death squad test out the new COVID-19 vaccine. And document my experience in the blog. Why? Becuz WAAAGH!
Man, are u nuts?
Yep, that’s the most popular question from my friends and relatives when they learned about my decision. I agree with them. This time I’m a green ork, and I can seriosly screw up. Please don’t do that at home, okay? I carry responsibility for my own health and wellbeing only;)
- Judging by the epidemic simulation you can watch on youtube – we’re in the very long “tail” phase of the epidemic and most of us will catch us sooner or later, unless you vaccinate or seal yourself off in a bunker.
- Blood type and a health history of my close relatives is not encouraging at all.
- In the city where I live most people don’t wear masks already using arguments like “my ears ache”, or rationalizing, that only people with symptoms are infectious and asymptomatic are not. And I’m not talking about folks that are in a complete denial of infection.
- I have close relatives that have a maximum health risk and I can’t 100% isolate myself from them.
So, the choice is simple – I need vaccination and that won’t happen any time soon. Perhaps, I can speed up the process somehow? Well, I can sign up for the clinical trials. And then if I’m lucky, I’ll get the vaccine and not the placebo.
To figure out the biological stuff, I had seek wisdom from a friend who is a talented chemist, genetic scientist and is just an awesome dude – Dorif.
Now, let’s talk seriously and weight ‘pro’ and ‘contra’.
- COVID-19 in it’s worst case DDOS-es the immune system with a huge amount of different shortened versions of S(spike)-protein of the virus capsid (the outer shell of the virus). These make their way and stick to all different tissues. The immune system starts learning about all these and destroys them along with the tissue they are stuck to. (“Friendly fire, I repeat, friendly fire!”) During the process the unlucky patient gets a ton of different antibodies that react to these shortened versions of the S-protein and nearly no antibodies for the ‘full’ version of the S-protein. The process also creates huge amounts of pro-inflammatory cytokines (the proteins that regulate the immune response) that further increase the inflammation. This is stuff they call cytokine storm and you get pretty much the same during that ‘wonderful’ disease called Ebola. Even more, cytokine storm is the very thing that makes Ebola lethal. It’s like you burn down half of your home with napalm when you see a spider. So side effects from the vaccine sound definetely better than playing the Russian Roulette with the ‘original’ virus. The cytokine storm mechanism is documented here и here.
Firmware dumpsGenomes of the viruses are available on githubncbi here and here.
- Vector vaccine is directed at the part of the S-protein that is a very conservative sequence (e.g. doesn’t mutate as often). Why? Because if it mutates, the virus won’t be able to deliver the payload into the cell any more.
- The mechanism is a proven research tool. They use adenovirus vectors, e.g. viruses that can’t replicate themselves.When the get into the cell, they start generating the part of the S-protein of COVID-19 virus and the immune system learns to ‘seek and destroy’ it, by generating the relevant antibodies. And these antibodies target only the full version of the S-protein.
- Adenoviruses are used in molecular biology for a very long time and are a proven research tool. It’s really hard to screw up in such a well-studied and documented protocol.
- In the early trials it’s unlikely they’ll add up some weird stuff that’s supposedly should increase the efficacy of the vaccine by over 9000% and reduce the amounts of the useful components (no studies it really does that!) like they do with some flu vaccine.
- Spending more time in the work<—>home, or ‘workhome’ mode with little to no social contacts and my brain will go nuts. And good psycotherapy is very expensive these days. Besides, hanging out in VRChat in the evening can be hazardous to your health. You can start watching anime for instance!
- We’re being a true hero, we move medicine further, for the good of humanity, etc. WAAAAGH! (Yeah, not
- This is scary and dangerous. Not going to argue with that. That is scary as hell and I can really screw up if my understanding is wrong.
- Ethic norms go down the drains with this vaccine. This is the biggest and heaviest statement against the vaccine. Judging by the news, the vaccine was developed in quite a rush and tested by the scientists on themselves (WAAAGH!). I would doubt that, if I hadn’t known quite a few folks that do self-experimentation regularly. Besides, up to some point I do the same as well. Maybe not that hardcore, but nevertheless. One the other hand, tripple-checking everything doesn’t really work when a global pandemic hits and every minute counts. For instance, when FDA in the US lagged with convid testing, the results were pretty much crappy. Proof, and one more Proof.
- Antibody-dependent intensification of infection. This a dangerous thing we have to consider, but since the sequence we’re targeting is very conservative, our chances of getting it aren’t that big. And if we consider the mechanism I’ve described above – in my personal opinion it’s a risk worth taking.
- They’ll install a chip onto me!111 I don’t know what to say about this. Perhaps, if I find a ‘chip’
in my ass,on my shoulder, I’ll carefully remove it, find the JTAG dump the firmware and it would make a very nice ‘unboxing post’ in my blog. Man, I wonder if it can run Linux?
- They’ll sterilize me! It’s all made for global birth control! Man, that’s a tough statement. Hard as a rock, dumb as a brick. The only way I can tell – test it out later. Just gonna need to find myself a wife. For conspiracy theorists: Original COVID-19 and Sars Cov also hit the very organs that produce testosterone in males. So I’d prefer the vaccine. (Proof)
Okay, so having considered all of the above I’ve decided to sign up for the trial. If I get the vaccine – hell, it’s about time!
The first visit
So I filled in the form at the very beginning of September and forgot about it for a few weeks. No feedback was received, so at some point I even thought that they forgot about me. Turned out they didn’t. In two weeks I received the SMS, acknowledging my participation in the trial and, in 3 minutes, a phone call.
At the appointed date I went to the polyclinic, passed the thermometry and went to the doctor’s office where I received the papers to sign. 16 pages of what I’m agreeing to and life insurance for the time of the trial. To make things short:
- No money for participants, save for life insurance. If one wants to make easy buck – that’s not something that will work for you,
- You get life insurance, so if you die your relatives will get some money. Just don’t tell ’em.
- If you were vaccinated recently – no shot for you. You’ll have to wait for a month since you last vaccination.
- You’ll have to report symptoms via app. Don’t want to install the app – no problem, doctors will call you,
- They asked me to fill the forms in print letters, since ‘international experts will be looking at those’. Sorry, folks. I really tried, but my handwriting sucks, I’m a programmer.
- Your chance of getting placebo – 25%, chance of getting vaccine – 75%. I hate gambling, but the ods are better than 50/50.
Besides, the doctor told me the following:
- It’s better to skip the gym at least 24 hours before and 48 hours afterwads +\- the way you feel
- You may have elevated temperature for a few days
- No alcohol for three days after injection
- Don’t wet the place of injection for a day
- The place of the injection may feel like a mosquitto bite, don’t scratch
- For allergic reaction – suprastin, temperature above 38.5 – paracetamol.
- They drew blood from my vein. About 3 or 4 tubes. The needle felt definitely bigger than in the clinic I usually do my blood tests. Big needles for big orks 😉
- Took the usual COVID-19 PCR swabs from the nose and the throat,
- Breathalyzer. Just in case I was drunk when signing up (or on keto!). I wasn’t either so all went fine.
- Urine… Why? They threw an express drug test right now. Just in case I was high when signing the papers.
After that the round was done and I went home. Time to wait for the results and (hopefully) get vaccinated.
Who were those brave volunteers?
What surprised me, the main part of volunteers were male, 40+. I looked like an undergrad compared to them. The only woman changed her mind and refused to sign the papers. I guess I now know the true reasons of high male death rate in Russia 😉
On the other hand, I only saw perhaps a dozen of other volunteers on my first day, so my conclusions may be totally incorrect.
WAAGH-cination (Take one, failure)
If any of the readers think, that signing yourself for a clinical trial of an experimental vaccine with unknown side effects is an easy feat for crazy folks like me – you are totally wrong.
This is damn scary as hell. Even if you completely understand the underlying science, looked up in the periodics, weighted the risks, etc. And then comes the moment when you have to sign life insurance where you read all the depressive things about who and how will pay for your burial. At this moment your irational part turns up fear to the max and asks you: “Fine, I don’t get any of that rational shit. Tell me, are you a dumb idiot?”
And even if you override that feeling when signing papers, you have to deal with that somehow between the days when you sign up the papers and the day when you receive the shot.
Now the extensive alcohol and drug testing totally made sense: one has to deal somehow with these unpleasant feelings. Alcohol & drugs are popular coping mechanisms and they can also seriously interfere with the drug being tested.
This nearly animal, primal fear already made the whole thing worthwhile for me even if eventually I’d end up in the placebo group. After all, one must learn to look the fear in the eyes, right?
The next appointment started with a routine checkup. Temperature, pressure, lungs, tripple-check that there are no known chronic illnesses.
The PCR for COVID-19 didn’t show a thing, no antibodies either, no chronic illnesses. My data was being filled in to some huge browser form. Either the site was sluggish, the PC slow, or too many tabs opened – the process wasn’t very fast. And here comes the first issue – the system didn’t want to randomize a vial for me, kept showing an error message. The doc spent nearly an hour fighting the whole thing, but it didn’t work out. It was evening and there was nobody to help out. So, I ‘didn’t pass’ the first time.
WAAAGH-cination (Take Two, 75% chance successful)
This time I came in the morning. There were a lot more people in the coridor, and I witnessed all the usual hell of any medical worker. From the talks of the doctors I could make sense that the system didn’t work well for everyone, besides some of the volunteers got scared AFTER they signed up everything and their vial of vaccine was already unfrozen and refused to vaccinate. No way the software could handle that. I don’t know how it all ended, but I feel for the poor doctors having to deal with this mess.
Again a quick checkup, a few steps filling the forms, again the same system error. This time a system administrator (or just a doctor that understands the system better) was around and quickly fixed the problem. And I finally got my vial number! Hell, it’s about time! (c)
I went to the office next door where the was a huge
pandora’s box smart fridge with the vaccine. The fridge only allowed it to be opened once in 15 minutes, ruled by some weird logic. Sometimes it would refuse to open. Whatever dark magic was imbued into this machine by creators and with what purpose remains unknown.
Luckily for me this time there were no bugs, and the doc took out a vial with a small shard of ice inside. Showed me that it’s factory sealed and placed it on the table to unfreeze. It should sit in there for a few minutes and it’s forbidden to warm it up with your hands. Afterwards, it’s contents were drawn into a syringe and delivered via a mostly painless shot right into my shoulder.
While the vaccine was still unfreezing I had a very pleasant chat with the nurse doing the injections who turned out to be the most calm, optimistic and positive of the whole, totally overwhelmed personnel.
Whatever was inside that magic potion, it turned off all remaining fear in me instantly. What next? We’ll find out. And for now – let’s make it home and rest.
When I came home I was feeling sleepy and tired. At some point I had a feeling that my temperature is somewhat about 37 C or so. The very crappy when you are not yet sick, but ain’t healthy either. But my thermometer showed me a steady 36.7.
Vaccine or placebo? This is the biggest question for me. My hope that the side effects will let me know vanished: having to deal with the irrational fear pretty much exhausted me, so my psyche could pretty much mock all the sideeffects. I guess I’m beginning to understand why people are so fond of those blind placebo-controlled trials.
I stayed home for the rest of the day. I had planned a day off for that day. My brains didn’t want to do a thing, so I did nothing. I went to sleep early, slept like a baby for almost 9 hours judging by telemetry. I also had some really weird and vivid dreams and moved a lot, so the ring misinterpreted some of the rem phases as wake time. But I felt refreshed.
More interesting stuff waited me on the sleep and heart rate tab. Too bad oura only measures the deviation from average temperature.
-0.4 C from average could mean literary anything. It was colder and my hand was outside the blanket, I slept deeper than usual.
Were these changes from normal caused by vaccine or fear? I’ve no idea!
Big brother takes care of you!
The researchers keep track of the participants’ health via two apps and phone calls. After taking the shot I stayed for forty minutes at the polyclinic so that if something goes terribly wrong, the doctors can get me some help. Afterwards, the same checkup as before the vaccination (minus tests), instructions to install the apps and that’s all. The next injection (the second component of the vaccine) would be in 21 days.
The first app is called Check COVID-19 and is basically a dumb app with a few quizes . Without registration you can check your symptoms and do a “myth/fact quiz about COVID for kids”. For vaccination trials you login via your medical insurance number and phone.
The only annoying bug – if someone calls you when you are filling the forms and you are forced to switch to another app – all you’ve filled is gone, start from scratch. The rest – well hard to say, the app is really simple. Requires some permissions like phone, storage, location – but it looks safe to just deny those. I even doubt they use them.
So I filled in my symptoms on the first day, set up the reminder in the app, removed from the homescreen and forgot about it.
Turned out it was not the only app. The next morning I got an SMS that I’m scheduled for ‘telemedicine consultation’. And the username/password for my login. Ooops. I opened it in browser on my phone (With firefox on android the web app didn’t get the camera/microphone permissions. Desktop worked, but I haven’t got a camera or mic ther), but there’s an app for that.
The app is called “ТМЦ ДЗМ” (Телемедицинский Центр Департамента Здравохранения Москвы). In Russian it sounds just as weird. Too many consonant letters in the two words!
When I logged in, I saw the doctor I have an appointment with and a fun fact that it’s scheduled for 9.33 (SMS arrived at 9.28!).
Due to my professional deformation I managed to do all the setup in just three minutes, so I sat and stared at the blank screen. Nothing. At 9.45 I finished breakfast, closed the app and went to work.
During the day the doctor called me via cellphone, asked the very same questions I’ve answered in Check COVID-19. And that’s all for now.
Day two, holding steady.
The second day was better, but I was still sleepy and didn’t want to do a thing, getting throughout the day very slowly. A few meetings at work weren’t really intensive, so picked easier tasks and kept it easy. The weather drastically changed on the very day of my vaccination, so I wasn’t even sure whether it was the weather, me being nervous, or the vaccine. The place of the shot quickly disappeared on the very first day – no allergic reaction, nothing. (Placebo?)
The second day I also fell asleep fast and this time the sleep was just pitch black. No vivid dreams, just nothing. Judging by other parameters – that was pretty close to how I normally sleep.
This basically sums up everything for now. I still have to ask a few questions about those apps, since they look somewhat redundant.
As of now I plan to wait at least 20-25 days and get COVID antibody test in a lab to learn how lucky (or unlucky) I was.
Huge thanks to Dorif for explaining me a lot of the sacred biomedical knowledge, to all medical stuff involved in these trials – they have to deal with a lot of stress and to all those who are worried about me (some of who now think of me as of a complete psycho!)