Joan Pons: “I have been a volunteer to test the Oxford vaccine; with the Russian I would not do it even as a joke”
He believes that the remedy could be distributed as early as October in Europe, prioritising risk profiles.
Nurse, Joan Pons has lived in the UK for 20 years, works as a nurse for the National Health Service (NHS). and is the only Spaniard in the Oxford vaccine trials. After seeing in his hospital “the horror” of the coronavirus, he offered himself as a ‘guinea pig’: “I wanted to contribute my grain of sand, every day we are losing lives”
Of Catalan origin, he is part of the management team at Sheffield University Hospital. He is also considered half Menorcan, since she has spent his childhood summers in the neighboring island. Right now, in fact, he is visiting the Menorcan lands with his parents. Despite being one of the few people in the world who is already vaccinated against the coronavirus , when he returns to the United Kingdom, he will also have to quartantine as imposed by the UK government on all travellers arriving from Spain.
Some questions were put to him…
Q You have been one of 10,020 volunteers who have participated in the trials and received the vaccine developed by Oxford. Why was it offered?
At the end of March, when I saw what was coming, I left the office, put on the nurse’s suit, in addition to the protective equipment, and went back to work with patients with covid-19. I have seen what the virus does, it is the horror, I have seen how the patients left me … The health personnel also lived with the anxiety of getting infected by doing our work. I thought that if I could do something to fight the virus I had to do it, I wanted to put my grain of sand in this battle. A friend who works at Oxford called me, he suggested it and I said yes. They were mainly looking for people who had been highly exposed to the virus, such as health personnel. On June 5th they put it on me.
Q Isn’t it scary to inoculate yourself with a virus that you know can be deadly, the effects of which you have also seen and know firsthand?
Yes, when you read in the consent that in exceptional cases it can cause anaphylactic shock and death … but Dr. Sarah Gilbert, the head of the Oxford research team, has tested it on her three children: would she put her at risk if she is not sure what she is doing? Also, my hatred of the virus and my love of life is greater than fear.
Q And how did your family receive the news?
My wife got scared, she didn’t talk to me for a couple of days … My parents are at risk profiles and during the confinement, locked up in Barcelona, they had a very bad time. In the end, everyone understands that it is for a good reason and that the vaccine is the only solution. And if there are no volunteers, there is no vaccine.
Q Have you had any side effects?
No, nothing beyond the pain of the jab. Other colleagues have had a headache, but I have nothing at all. The vaccine is safe.
Q Did you charge anything to volunteer?
No, I do not charge anything.
Q What checkups do you have after getting the vaccine?
A I have a PCR every week and tests to see if I develop antibodies. We are very controlled and accompanied, I have to take my temperature every day and notify me if I have a fever or any symptoms. We have a 24-hour telephone service. Once a month I have a medical check-up and blood tests. The next one is September 2.
Q And do you have antibodies?
A Yes, I have antibodies, 100% of the volunteers have and those who received two doses have more.
Q When will the Oxford developed vaccine be ready?
Between the end of the month and the beginning of September they hope to be able to present it to the World Health Organization (WHO) and, if they give the go-ahead, it could go to phase IV, the commercialisation phase. There are rumours that they are so sure of its effectiveness that it is already being manufactured in India and Argentina. If all goes well, in October the vaccine could already be in Europe, and in November and December in the rest of the world. This is what I will ask of Baltasar, my favorite wizard king. It would be the best Christmas present. This is a race against time, every day we lose lives.
Q How do you think the distribution should be, who should get it first?
It should be received first by the elderly and those with a risk profile, and by health personnel. In 2021 it would already reach the general population.
Q Due to an ethical question, it should be universal access, but companies will want to recoup their investment and do business.
In the case of Oxford, they are not looking to make a profit. In fact, they have signed agreements with several countries, such as Argentina, Mexico and the United Kingdom so that they can produce it themselves. The price will be between 3 or 4 euros per vaccine. The companies that are also working on developing a vaccine should not fall into the desire to make money.
Q On Sunday there was a demonstration in Madrid with people who say that the virus does not exist , that the mask is a useless imposition, that with the vaccine they are going to inoculate us with a microchip … What would you say?
To begin with, I do not beieve that there is a technology to develop a microchip so small that it can be inoculated with a vaccine. On the mask, it costs nothing to put it on and that they are aware that by not wearing it they can transmit the disease and be responsible for the death of people, including their loved ones. And to those who say that the virus is an invention, I invite you to come to the hospital, to see what it does to people, including young people, to everyone.
Q And to those who say that the vaccine is not safe, that vaccinating yourself means developing other diseases?
Let them look at history. That they look at all the diseases that have been eradicated thanks to vaccines. I am a nurse, I will always look at the data, and in this case they are there and they are very clear. Some of these diseases that had disappeared thanks to vaccines are returning precisely because of these people. And if you doubt its safety because it has developed very fast compared to others, in just one year, I tell you that you have to take into account that China deciphered and made the genome public very quickly, which has accelerated the process a lot. In addition, many efforts are being made because the stakes are high, it affects us all. Universities like Oxford, or companies like Moderna, would not jeopardize their prestige by releasing something that is not safe too soon.
Q And the Russian vaccine?
If they tell me to try that one, I run; not kidding, come on. But apart from the Russian one, it is not bad that there are a variety of vaccines if the correct protocols have been followed, the more there are the better because they can still be complementary: one may work better with some profiles; another with others …
Q You are vaccinated, will you be released from quarantine when you return to the UK?
No, I have consulted them and they have told me that I have to do it the same. And also that I do a PCR every week.