Volunteering for the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine …and Getting Back to Normal Life

    By Richard Lee

    I’m one of the 1,000 volunteers for the Johnson & Johnson (“J&J”) phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine study at Stanford Medical School, aka the Janssen Ensemble Study. I likely received the actual J&J vaccine and not the placebo; more on that in a bit.

    Most volunteers will say that their primary reason for getting injected with an experimental vaccine is to further science. But truth be told, I was also motivated by a lack of faith in my fellow citizens to do the right things—like following CDC guidance to wear face masks and social distance. I’m baffled by Americans who reject science and protest uncomplicated measures to help extinguish the spread of COVID-19.

    My household embraces science and has played it safe since March—no sit-down dining outside of our home; limited intermingling with outsiders (only while wearing masks and staying apart). If I see a guy in my local Costco who isn’t wearing a mask, I’ll ask him to mask up. Any resistance to this request results in my about-face; I can’t force a stranger to conform to prosocial norms. As the Head of Physical Security & Safety for a big company, however, I have a duty to protect my colleagues via health & safety policies that only permit essential workers into our offices after agreeing to precautions such as donning masks. When I’ve encountered workplace mask-doubters, I’ve handed out a CDC article about two infected hair stylists who did not transmit the coronavirus to their clients due to a universal face covering policy. To get back to normal life, we’ll need to work in unison and convince everyone that this COVID monster goes away if we each do our part to mask up and stay apart.

    As one stellar example of a nation that is well on its way to returning to normal life, Australia, a country of 25 million, is our COVID-19 statistical opposite—Australia has, thus far, massively succeeded in rolling out a national strategy guided by science. As Australian epidemiologist Marylouise McLaws stated, “Leaders from across the ideological spectrum persuaded Australians to take the pandemic seriously early on and prepared them to give up civil liberties they had never lost before, even during two world wars.” Australia is close to eliminating community transmission with only 12 new cases reported on December 16, whereas California reported nearly 61,000 new cases during the same date. Let’s learn from our friends Down Under—that rapidly rolling out a coherent national strategy with individuals committed to doing their part is a successful formula for tamping down COVID-19.

    Short of a national strategy, most Americans are anticipating vaccines to save the day. I’m excited about the emergency approvals of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Next vaccines up for FDA’s review should be AstraZeneca and J&J. The vaccine rollout to the masses, however, may take several more months—perhaps into late spring or early summer of 2021. In the interim, we need to ramp up prophylactic steps that should be our pandemic mantra—mask up and maintain distance.

    Now back to why I believe that I received the J&J vaccine, and what you can learn from my experience. Nine hours after receiving the shot, I started experiencing side effects (similar to what I feel after the seasonal flu vaccine); my wife, on the other hand, never experiences vaccine side effects, so my side effects may differ from what you’ll experience. I had body aches (particularly in my back and leg muscles), chills, and a fever that all dissipated upon waking up from a fitful night of sleep. My left deltoid (injection site) felt sore for two days after the shot—like a mild bruise. Typically, I’d take a Tylenol at the onset of side effects, but this time, I wanted to experience every bit of my body producing antibodies to attack the adenovirus vector protein spikes (harmless on their own) that will prime my body’s immune system to “remember” how to attack the novel coronavirus’ protein spikes should I get exposed later.

    As I continue on with this J&J vaccine study for the next two years, I’ll have blood draws, which will likely be examined for novel coronavirus antibodies to measure how long the vaccine protection lasts. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that J&J succeeds with its phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine, and that many of you will participate in getting vaccinated (by any of the FDA-approved vaccines).

    As vaccines become more widely available and questions (and doubts) invariably surface, I hope you recall this story and share it with others—your coworkers, your friends. Remember that my story is one of thousands who have helped pave the way to ensure your safety, and that vaccines maximally work only if taken up the world over. We may feel that we have limited means to protect ourselves and others during this pandemic, but there are tools to help beat COVID-19 available both today and, soon, with vaccines.

    I see the light at the end of this pandemic tunnel. We can get there together by embracing and practicing safe behaviors in unison—wear a mask, stay apart, avoid crowds, practice good hand hygiene, and encourage others to do the same. When a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available in your community, consider taking it, and, if you experience mild side effects, embrace your antibodies doing their work to protect you on your path back to normal life!

    Richard Lee is a California Private Investigator with Menlo Atherton Investigations (www.menlopi.com). He is also the Head of Security & Safety for a social media company and former Head of Security for Yelp. Prior to returning to California a decade ago, Richard had served in the Central Intelligence Agency’s Directorate of Operations. Richard welcomes you reaching out to him at rick@menlopi.com.