‘... The first of the year,’ said ‘guinea pig’ Briggs
Licensed to serve as a fill-in heart-lung surgeon beyond Tennessee — in Wyoming, Kentucky, Montana and Wisconsin — from three to 10 days at a time, state Sen. Dr. Richard Briggs (R-District 7) also is going some distance, in terms of health risk, to help pharmaceutical companies find a vaccine to beat COVID-19.
“I’m a human guinea pig,” said Briggs, a former U.S. Army colonel field surgeon who is one of roughly 30,000 worldwide being tested with a pair of monthly injections, then tested monthly for “COVID antibodies” growth — which fight the virus infection — in a 25-month assessment.
“This may be corny, but I really want to be involved in public service,” added the world-renown thoracic surgeon, 67. He is being tested at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, one of 89 worldwide sites, where he received his first shot — so far without any side effects or symptoms — Thursday, Aug. 13.
When could the United States expect an effective vaccine, in sufficient quantities, to battle COVID-19?
“My gut feeling is, from what I’ve read about this and looking at the preliminary studies, I think they’ll start vaccinating people by the first of the year,” Briggs said. “But it could be into March, April. We don’t know.”
Briggs is among those being tested with a vaccine (or placebo) by Moderna, one of “four or five” companies in the United States, Western Europe and Japan in the race to beat COVID-19 by having their vaccines tested by volunteers.
He also is among 400 health care field workers to be tested at Vanderbilt. “We would probably be at a higher risk to be exposed (to COVID-19) because we are working in hospitals,” Briggs said.
The U.S. Government has given “$1.5 billion to (each) of these companies” in the vaccine race to pay for making “hundreds of millions of doses,” which would prepare them to meet demand when, and if, that company received Food & Drug Administration permission to go ahead and administer their vaccine to the general public.
However, if there still remained a shortage, for example, of 100 million doses in the United States, “They first could give it to some of the high-risk population; we do know Black people, the elderly and Hispanics seem to be at higher risk,” Briggs added. “And healthcare workers.”
Briggs envisions no more than a “three-month period” before most every U.S. citizen could get the vaccine.
He expects officials to “break the code probably in November,” which means finding out the vaccine receivers versus those receiving placebo, and compare all the test results and volunteer conditions to determine vaccine effectiveness.
As for unpredictability, however, “You may get a tremendous antibody response, but it may not make you immune … it doesn’t give you any protection,” he said about possible vaccine effects. “You may go into kidney failure — there may be something that happens with this shot that we don’t know about. … Are their side effects? Are there dangerous side effects?”
However, neither Briggs nor the shot administrator knows if he got an actual trial vaccine or a placebo, known as a “Double-Blind Study,” he said.
His next, and final, shot is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 10.
With Briggs among the 30,000, this level is dubbed Phase 3, as allowed by the Food & Drug Administration: Phase 1 amounts to testing with animals, namely monkeys, according to Briggs.
With encouraging results at that level, Phase 2 was a worldwide human test of 45 “young, healthy volunteers” — all knowing they got the vaccine — “to make sure something just terrible doesn’t happen. … If it did, (the younger volunteers) could survive it,” Briggs said. “… About 60 percent of them had no symptoms at all from the vaccine. … About 40 percent had soreness in the (vaccined) arm or redness in the arm, or they got a fever and they felt lousy.
“They drew blood (from the 45) and they got a very vigorous antibody response,” the world-renown thoracic surgeon added
Overall, “I read in the Wall Street Journal there’s like 32 vaccines out there,” Briggs said, with the Moderna vaccine “one of eight being tested right now. … China has one or two,” he added.
Skipping Phase 3, “Russia has already released their’s.”
And while Russia’s “preliminary study looked like it worked … only a small number of people” were tested. “They’re skipping Phase 3,” Briggs said.
If an effective vaccine is found, will its protection be lifelong, as with polio, smallpox and measles? Or will it be similar to vaccines battling hepatitis-B and typhoid fever, for example, with effectiveness for a few years before needing another dose?