Here's What It's Like To Get The New Ebola Vaccine

IMG_0037_r_JessicaNashPhotographed by Jessica Nash.
As the current Ebola outbreak has become one of the most devastating in history (now responsible for over 2,600 deaths), scientists have been hard at work, quickly producing a protective vaccine to slow the disease's spread. The newest version of the vaccine just went into human trials this month. Each "human guinea pig" in this trial receives the vaccine under close supervision and keeps a diary of any side effects experienced. To give us a better idea of what this process is actually like, someone participating in the Ebola trials answered Reddit's questions in an AMA last week. Below, we've compiled the most interesting questions and answers.
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How much are you getting paid?
"$100 for each of two pre-trial evaluations, $275 for today, and $25 for keeping a seven-day diary. Then, $175 each time I come back for blood draws."
What side effects were you warned about?
"The worst one is a severe allergic reaction. But, they've never seen that in the VRC [Vaccine Research Center] and they're well prepared if it does happen... They only have a sample size of 12 (13 with me) so they really don't know for sure, but the components of the vaccine have been used in other studies, just not in this combination. That gives them a general idea. The worst they've had so far is a fever from one of the other two people who got the same dose I did."
This won't give you Ebola, right?
"No. It's a viral DNA vector. It causes some of my cells to express ebola proteins to illicit [sic] an immune response. The DNA can't replicate and will be gone within a couple weeks. I was told about a thousand times that I cannot get Ebola from it and it was even on a true/false quiz testing my understanding about the study this morning."
How do the researchers test to see if the vaccine's working?
"They draw blood and check for antibodies."
IMG_0030_r_JessicaNash-(2)Photographed by Jessica Nash.
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Are you isolated or hospitalized during the study?
"I'm hanging out in the 'post-vaccination room' and can't leave for three hours, but I'm not quarantined. A few people have come by just to say hi and to read my shirt, because the doctor who's in charge keeps telling everyone about it."
How can you be sure you didn't receive the placebo?
"There is no placebo in this trial. Time and volunteers are too precious at the present time... This study is being rushed and isn't perfect, but so long as people don't get sick and do show some kind of immune response, they can get it to people in need sooner."
Have you experienced negative side effects from being a volunteer in past studies?
"The worst one I ever did was an anxiety study. As a healthy volunteer, they induced anxiety with electric shocks to my fingers, but the worst part was the sound they blasted in my ears to distract me from the task."
What made you want to get the vaccine?
"Graduate school applications aren't cheap, and this one study will cover most of them (eventually). I'm headed for a career in biomedical research, and the guinea-pig experience is enlightening."
Using (and paying) human participants for their work in clinical trials has always been a bit sketchy; the payment has to compensate for their time, but ethically, it can't be enough to act as an incentive. The practice has recently been criticized for doing just that — exploiting homeless populations in medical research with compensation that's not a lot, but is an incentive to those who don't have much else. However, human clinical trials are obviously an extremely important part of the FDA approval process. So, hats off to those guinea pigs brave enough to volunteer.
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