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Colorado Springs volunteer offers perspective from COVID-19 vaccine trial

AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine
Posted at 12:48 PM, Aug 07, 2021

COLORADO SPRINGS — COVID-19 vaccination totals in Colorado show a large number of people who either do not see the value or are choosing not to get vaccinated. With some questioning safety, a Colorado Springs woman agreed to talk about here experience as one of the volunteers in a COVID-19 vaccine trial.

"In September I felt like I'd been sitting on my couch watching movies long enough,” said trial volunteer, Elizabeth Poje, “I kept sensing there's more that I can do to help." When she saw a call for volunteers on her UCHealth portal she asked herself, “Why not me?” She signed up for the trial UCHealth was leading for AstraZeneca.

Turns out the trial was based in Loveland, which is a long drive from Colorado Springs. "My worst reaction was to the drive up through The Gap." She’s been driving to Loveland once a month and keeping a weekly on-line diary.

The desire to do more than wear a mask and follow the COVID-19 prevention recommendations was the motivation. Only, Poje did not enter the trial without considering the risk and rewards. She is retired from a successful career and no one in her family depends on her for assistance. She recognized the need to protect vulnerable populations because her husband is a cancer survivor. She was once hospitalized and deathly ill with swine flu. “There was one day it was so hard to breath, I thought I was going to die.” She wishes there had been a vaccine.

There is also science included in her process. Her education background is math and biology. Her career, that included time at NASA, required scientific thinking. While being screened on the first day of the trial, she was in turn assessing the UCHealth plan and set-up. “I just watched how the whole thing was being run and it was excellent, just absolutely excellent, “ said Poje, “And I’m a science kind of person, a science kind of geek.”

“Safety is paramount,” said Dr. Greg Luckasen who is leading the AstraZeneka study for UCHealth. The formula for the vaccine includes a large portion of what is used in other long time trusted vaccines. That part is the vehicle for injection into the body. The update is a benign protein similar to the live COVID-19 contagion. “The body will say this is not our protein, we’ll form antibodies to it, we’ll form white cells to it, that will react to it.”

Among all the vaccine options Dr. Luckason sees the growing evidence showing they are effective with very minimal risks of side effects. He referred to some 4.2 billion doses given worldwide. “We don’t suddenly see a huge volume of those people suddenly going to the hospital.”

Conversely, he said there are people going to the hospital with the latest mutation of the virus. "Now we know that the people that don't get vaccinated get the disease. That's a choice, but it's not to me, a good choice." He said “95% or more” of current COVID-19 hospitalizations are people who are not vaccinated.

For the first months of the trial Poje did not know if she got the vaccine or a placebo. When she became eligible for vaccination under the regular public option, she was told she was given the vaccine. Other than a sore arm from the shot she has had no issues.

There is reaction from others who figure out she took part in the trial. "When they found out I was in a trial, would thank me for being in the trial, some people thought I was absolutely crazy." For those questioning, she explains that someone has to be a pioneer to discover and move forward.

There is no compensation and Poje is not looking for credit. She shares her experience to let others know, she took part in the trial to help others with questions and concerns. "I thought the risk of doing this for me, at this age particularly, is really pretty small compared to the reward if we can get this vaccine out." She thinks it is especially important for adults to get vaccinated to protect kids. They currently are not cleared to get COVID vaccines.