Deepak Paliwal is among the 1077 healthy volunteers who are part of the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine trial against SARS-CoV-2, known as the Oxford coronavirus vaccine trial. With the recent release of promising early phase 1/2 data, he explains to Viveka Roychowdhury why he took “a leap of faith in science” and what must be done to build trust in the clinical trial process
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am a UK resident, originally from Jaipur, Rajasthan. I did an M Pharm in Pharmacy Management from the Manipal College of Pharmacy in 1999-2001. I am a pharma professional with over two decades of experience in marketing, strategy and consulting.
How has COVID-19 impacted your life and livelihood in the UK?
COVID-19 has had a massive impact not just on me but people around me as well as globally. Being painstakingly away from family and either of us not being able to visit each other for the considerable future is not something we anticipated. The highlight of our lives has been as such that we visited home three to possibly four times a year. To add to the mix of emotions, my wife is a pharmacist who is on the frontline dealing with this on a daily basis, there isn’t running away, just facing the facts.
Has anyone among your circle of acquaintances contracted the virus or worse, passed away due to the infection? Did you and your wife try to come back to India to your relatives?
We have been fortunate enough so far not to lose our near and dear ones to it. We are not even going to India even after the borders open and flights start operating because it is not the kind of risk, I am willing to take as of now.
What made you volunteer to be a part of the Oxford Coronavirus vaccine trial? Have you been part of trials for previous medicines or vaccines?
I have never been a part of any clinical trial to date and it wasn’t even something one thinks about I suppose till something drastically life-changing like COVID-19 comes your way.
I was stuck working from home, there was so much morbidity and depression around. Doctors, nurses, healthcare in general and all key workers were struggling to cope. At such a time, a friend who worked at St Georges Hospital, London messaged about how the Oxford University Trial was on the lookout for healthy volunteers. And here I am, post Phase 2.
What was your family’s reaction?
My wife wasn’t too keen on me volunteering for it but she respected my decision as an individual. We both did not tell the family for over 60 days. Once I thought the worst would be over for me, I would tell them. I think they were in a bit of a shock and did not know how to react as they did not realise the implications of what I had done for a while.
Let’s say that what followed wasn’t ‘fun and games’.
Could you give us a timeline of the process, starting from the day you volunteered?
I applied for it online on a whim after my friend’s message and in mid-April, I received an email inviting me to come forward for the screening.
I got confirmation in a week that I fitted the volunteer profile and eligibility criteria. They invited me for my jab on May 11, with the first important review after a week. I had to report my symptoms of any sort for 28 days via my e-diary. On the 28th day again, there was a thorough check of the different parameters! The parameters will be checked again after 60 days, 90 days and 365 days.
What was the screening process like?
The screening process was very meticulous, they checked all my essential parameters like height, weight, full blood counts and any co-morbidities like diabetes and hypertension.
There were doctors and nurses who were a part of the trial too. They made us watch videos on the risks and benefits of clinical trials so that we could make an informed decision and drop-out if we chose to.
What is your daily commitment to the trial’s progress?
I had to report my symptoms or lack of them on an e-diary every day for 29 days. Even to this day, I have an emergency number to call if need be.
Is there any compensation, insurance etc backing participation in this trial?
Absolutely no monetary benefits whatsoever, hence ‘volunteer’.
How are you coping with the psychological stress of not knowing if the vaccine will help or harm you?
I am keeping positive and working on my physical and mental wellbeing as normal if not a little bit more in such a situation which is alien to us all. I speak to my loved ones every day and make even more of an effort to keep in touch with everyone I know.
At least now one cannot complain of not having enough time.
The fear of the unknown is what keeps people from being volunteers for clinical trials. What would be your advice to potential volunteers for trials in general?
As I mentioned, I took a leap of faith in science due to my surroundings at that time. I would do the same thing again if I had to turn time around.
I would advise the young and healthy to volunteer without any hesitation, it does not have to be for a clinical trial only; it can be anything that they believe in. Small steps make a big difference and today I stand proud regardless of the results.
How can organisers of such trials, be they research institutions, pharma/vaccine companies, governments, or CROs build trust in the clinical trial process and inspire people to volunteer to be part of such trials in the future, without any monetary gain etc?
There is only one way to do it, and that is to educate the masses! And this needs to start at a young age, if not at the school level, at least at the graduation level. If even 1 per cent of medical/paramedical/health sciences graduate students take part in any clinical trials, we will have more than enough participants. Let’s challenge the so-called celebrities to come forward for such trials. I know it is a big thing to ask where even blood donation is considered a task to manage!