Wednesday, 07 April 2021 11:24

UNCP professor practices what she teaches, joins COVID clinical trial

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PEMBROKE — The COVID-19 pandemic has cost the lives of more than half a million Americans, millions more have become ill, some with long-lasting symptoms and society has been turned on its heels.  

Despite it all, some Americans are either reluctant or outright opposed to receiving the new vaccines, that have been rolling out since December. But Dr. Maria Santisteban, a UNC Pembroke microbiologist is so convinced that the new vaccines are safe and effective, that she volunteered to participate in a COVID vaccination trial.  

After hearing of a new trial on Dec. 28, Dr. Santisteban decided to do some background checking. The American company Novavax was launching the trial, and it was recruiting participants from certain risk groups, including Hispanics. Santisteban, a native of Spain, decided to volunteer. She explained, “I teach microbiology, and I tell my students that vaccines make our lives better and they work, and it’s only through experimentation like these trials that we can find out if the work, so I volunteer.” 

Santisteban explained that as a microbiology professor she teaches her students how vaccines have transformed society, allowing people to live. Because of polio vaccines, polio has been eradicated almost globally. Smallpox has been eradicated. “We hear some people saying that they won’t take the vaccine because they fear to feel a bit unwell after it. Well, dying from COVID is much more uncomfortable. It is a horrible death. People can’t breathe. It is true that people report fatigue, headache and chills after the second shot of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, but that may just be a positive sign.”  

Santisteban chose to use a clinical trial site in Fayetteville, which is one of several sites in North Carolina that are also running trials for the Moderna and the Johnson & Johnson vaccines. 

Before her first appointment date, however, a member of her family tested positive for COVID, which delayed Santisteban’s initial appointment until Jan. 18. Her initial visit included blood work and a questionnaire, and she was sent home with a kit by which she monitors her temperature daily and completes a questionnaire about symptoms.  Two-thirds of the Novavax trial participants received the vaccine and one-third received a placebo. She returned to the clinical trial site on day 35 and is scheduled to return after three months, six months, one year and after two years.  

Fortunately, if Santisteban received only placebo instead of COVID vaccines, she will be able to receive Novavax vaccine in the near future. Indeed, when she discusses vaccinations and the COVID pandemic while in the college classroom, she can now add her personal testimony that new vaccines are grounded in solid science and that they undergo rigorous testing for safety and efficacy before they ever reach the general public.  

Dr. Santisteban offered this final insight. “For the reasons we talked about, I would say to people, get the vaccine. If you don’t do it for yourself, do it for someone else. A year ago, during the first wave of the pandemic in Spain, when the ICUs were saturated and, in some cases, doctors were forced to triage, my sister’s father-in-law died, alone. One less person bound for the ICU is one more bed/tank of oxygen for someone who didn’t get the vaccine.”