Dr. Atul Gawande, a coronavirus advisor to President-elect Joe Biden, told CNBC on Wednesday he participated in Moderna‘s Covid-19 vaccine trial.
“My mother, at 84, said, ‘I want to give back,’ so she signed up for the trial. I said if my mom can do that, then I’ll sign up for a vaccine trial,” Gawande said on “Squawk Box.”
Massachusetts-based Moderna ended up being the company offering a trial nearby, said Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and Harvard University professor. He said he received his first shot in August and “felt almost nothing.” However, he said, it was a different story when he received the second dose in late September.
“Two days later, I had fever, chills and needed to stay home,” said Gawande, who also is chairman of Haven, the joint health-care venture from Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase. “I haven’t needed to take a day out from my surgery practice or my public health work for more than a year. I barely let anything knock me down, but that one knocked me down. Then about 24 hours later, I was back on my feet and doing OK.”
Gawande’s reflection on his experience comes as Americans outside of clinical trials are being immunized against Covid-19 for the first time, beginning last week with Pfizer‘s vaccine and with Moderna’s this week. As of Monday morning, 614,117 doses had been administered, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracker.
Gawande said he does not know whether he received the vaccine or was in the trial’s placebo group. While he suspects the side effects he experienced were from the actual vaccine, he said it’s possible it was a psychological response to receiving the placebo. He added that his mom “barely had any reaction” from shots she received in her clinical trial.
Side effects from vaccines are not necessarily cause for concern, Gawande stressed. “That’s the immune system kicking in, and your antibodies being generated to the virus,” he said.
Gawande is part of a team of doctors and health experts advising Biden on the coronavirus pandemic during the transition. On Monday, Biden was vaccinated on live television in hopes of encouraging other Americans to be willing to receive the shot. “There’s nothing to worry about. I am looking forward to the second shot,” Biden said.
Biden said Tuesday that Americans need to remain vigilant about the coronavirus around the holidays, even though the vaccine has started to be distributed. ”In the meantime, the pandemic rages on. Experts think it could get worse before it gets better,” he said.
Gawande gave a similar outlook Wednesday, saying that the high levels of infection currently in the country will lead to more deaths from Covid-19 in the weeks and months ahead.
“We’re at 300,000 deaths. Already, the next 100,000 deaths are baked in, with new infections in the last week or so,” Gawande said. “It’s really about can we avoid the 500,000 deaths, which is really just horrifying to think about.”