First American to Receive COVID-19 Trial Vaccine Shares Her Reason for Volunteering Ahead of New Discovery+ Special (Exclusive)

As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues across the U.S., discovery+ is diving deep into the historic race to quell the coronavirus pandemic with a new special, The Vaccine: Conquering COVID, streaming Thursday. The special goes behind the scenes in how the world's leading experts have spent the last year fighting against a rising death toll and features interviews with people such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the face of the American COVID response, and Jennifer Haller, a Seattle resident who became the first person in the United States to receive the experimental Moderna trial vaccine.

Haller, who received the first experimental dosage in March 2020, spoke to ahead of the special's release about becoming an unexpected part of history after "poking around on Facebook" and signing up for the trials. COVID-19 first hit the Seattle area in January 2020, and Haller was acutely aware of its spread, as her parents live close to the first nursing home outbreak that made headlines.

"I certainly wasn't trying to be the first [to get the vaccine]," Haller tells PopCulture, sharing that it's important for her to acknowledge the privilege she's had as a middle-class white person with steady employment to "help where [she] can" in her community. "The cards have been stacked in my favor," she says of her decision to take the risk of testing the vaccine.

Haller had no idea she would be the first person to receive the Moderna vaccine but figured out the night before her early morning appointment that she might be breaking historic ground when she read a news story about the first vaccine's scheduled distribution. "At the moment of getting the shot, it was a moment of consciousness and being calm," she describes the moment she was vaccinated.

After being observed for an hour, Haller remembers emerging from the clinic and having her phone "blowing up." That night she made the rounds on national news stations to discuss her experience and side effects — a mild fever and sore arm. Being thrust into the spotlight was "totally unexpected," but something Haller is grateful for, as she hopes it can be an inspiration for her children and people around the world "to think outside themselves."


Haller won't try to convince people who are actively anti-vaccine but offers to people who are nervous the many examples of people who have been vaccinated and are healthy as well as the missive to protect not only themselves and their families, but also their communities. When things return to some semblance of normalcy and COVID-19 is controlled, Haller says she is most excited for "hugging [her] mom" and returning to live music events.

Also featured in The Vaccine: Conquering COVID are Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health; and Dr. John Mascola of the National Institutes of Health, and leading scientists from pharmaceutical companies including Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer. Outside the lab, viewers will also get a look at the distribution side of the vaccine, with interviews from leaders such as Colorado Gov. Jared Polis who will share the challenges facing officials attempting to tackle the next step of the pandemic response. The Vaccine: Conquering COVID streams Thursday, Feb. 18 on discovery+.