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Ballard woman ‘feels great’ nearly 4 months into COVID-19 vaccine trial

A pharmacist gives Jennifer Haller the first shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19 in March in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Nearly four months after her first injection, a Ballard woman who became the first person to participate in a COVID-19 vaccine trial says she’s doing well.

The vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., was administered to 45 people in Seattle in the first phase of its trial through the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute.

Participants received two doses of the vaccine about a month apart, and are being monitored through regular blood tests for the next year.

Jennifer Haller, a tech startup operations manager, said she has noticed no difference in her body since receiving the two shots in March.

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“After the two injections, the only side effect that I experienced was just soreness in my arm, but I didn’t experience any other side effects,” she said. “I’m feeling great … it was even less impactful than a flu vaccine I’ve had before.”

On Monday, she went in for her 16-week-post-vaccine blood test. Haller said she is scheduled for a few more blood tests over the next 11 months.

Moderna announced in May that the first eight recipients of the vaccine — including Haller — have had a strong immune response, showing higher levels of antibodies than patients who have had and recovered from COVID-19.

The third phase of the Moderna/NIH vaccine trial is set to begin this month, testing another 30,000 people.

In the meantime, although she may indeed turn out to be one of the first people to have vaccine-given immunity to COVID-19, Haller is still taking every possible precaution when coming in contact with others.

“I haven’t assumed that I have any special immunity. I’ve been living my life as everyone should be right now — wearing a mask when you’re out, social distancing, being careful,” she said, adding with a chuckle, “It’s not like I have a superhero cape or something.”

The vaccine trial process was not without its risks. In fact, Haller had to sign a 45-page release warning her of the risks — and says she read every one of those 45 pages.

Still, Haller went ahead with the trial because, as a passionate fan of science, she wanted to be part of medical progress — and, as a human being, she felt it was her duty to help others,

“I have a lot of privilege in my life. I can take this risk and a lot of people can’t,” she said. “A lot of people are struggling just to put food on the table or just to keep their jobs, or to find a job. So that was really important to me, to recognize my privilege and to do something — to take a risk that others would not be able to do.”

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