Volunteers are testing out the potential vaccine, which is the first and only vaccine to be developed in California. The company ImmunityBio is behind the vaccine.
Irvine resident Chen Cao became the very first research volunteer to receive the novel COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday at Hoag Hospital.
"I don't feel any differences. I don't feel like there's something in my body just swimming around!" she laughed.
While she's able to laugh about it, she also understands the risks, saying it's worth it if it means helping others.
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"I'm honored to be number one and I really hope it can do something with the immune system, do something for the research," she said.
This vaccine is one-of-a-kind because it delivers two proteins from SARS-CoV-2 - one that identifies an infected cell and destroys it, the other that prevents the virus from getting into the cell in the first place.
"Most of the vaccines that are currently in trial only are delivering the spike protein and really are targeted in developing antibodies to the virus," said Dr. Phillip Robinson, the principal investigator for COVID-19 research trials at Hoag.
After two injections three weeks apart, the clinical research team will continually check for antibodies to see how the vaccine is working and whether the patients are retaining any immunity levels, all while keeping a close eye on side effects.
"They might have a headache, a lot of different things. They could very well develop a small fever, so we go through all of those with them," said Deborah Fridman, the clinical research director at Hoag.
Cao is also participating because of her frustration with the pandemic, which has kept her away from her family in China. They were supposed to come to her graduation from UC Irvine this year.
"After this, I just want to tell them I'm not only a straight A (student), I not only know how to study, I'm not only a self-independent person. I can do something a little risky, but beneficial to all the people," she said.
There are 35 participants in this first phase. The second phase will have hundreds across California and the third phase will have about 30,000 across the country. If you'd like to participate, go to Hoag.org/covid.