'Why not give it to us?': Clinical trial participants want coronavirus vaccine after receiving placebo

The volunteers were hailed as heroes when the trials began, but now those who didn't receive the vaccine are waiting like everyone else.

Posted: Feb 1, 2021 8:52 PM
Updated: Feb 1, 2021 10:41 PM

As Alabama prepares to expand coronavirus vaccine eligibility, people whose volunteer efforts helped get the vaccines approved are still having difficulty getting their own doses. 

Karen Fratesi said she signed up to participate in the Pfizer trials at Optimal Research in Huntsville, hoping she'd be among those who received the experimental dose.

Thousands of volunteers took part in the coronavirus vaccine trials before emergency use authorization was granted.

Seeing the vaccine as the way back to normal, she felt it was important that she do her part and was among the brave who rolled up their sleeves for injections in August and September.

She said she suspected early on that she had received the placebo, noting a lack of any of the side effects associated with the vaccine. As it would turn out, she was right.

In early January, Optimal Research reached out saying they were willing to “unblind” participants and give them doses of the vaccine if they had received the placebo. But, according to Fratesi, it wasn't that simple.

"They said that there is a vaccine there, in their freezer, with my chart number on it, that can't go to anyone else,” she said.

While the doses are waiting there, Fratesi was told that she can’t receive them yet based on an instruction from Pfizer.

“Pfizer hadn't approved it yet for anything other than what the state of Alabama was currently vaccinating,” she said the group told her.

At 62, Fratesi didn't meet any of the state requirements for vaccination in phase 1A or 1B, but knowing these experimental doses are available for those who want them, she feels people who received the placebo should not have to wait.

"I wouldn't think that if it were the same vaccine that was out on the public market that people who needed it more were getting,” she explained. “But the fact that it's set aside for only us, why not give it to us?”

Neither Optimal Research nor Pfizer could immediately be reached for comment Monday.

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