When I told family, friends, and colleagues that I was going to participate in a COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial, they used many words to describe me – both positive and negative: “brave,” “naïve,” “crazy,” and, yes, even “guinea pig.” The word I most use to describe my decision is “compelled.”
Working in health care policy for more than 20 years, I knew where to look for credible information about COVID-19 and the search for viable treatments and vaccines. I knew my family was blessed to have all four grandparents still with us, but each were at high risk for severe illness if infected with COVID-19. I also knew that having safe and effective vaccines to prevent COVID-19 was our best hope to end the pandemic and save not only my parents, but other families’ loved ones as well.
I searched the ClinicTrials.gov database for information on vaccine clinical trials and I did my homework. I read through the reported data on the Phase 1 trials on all the vaccines with clinical trials in the U.S. I called multiple clinical trial sites within three hours of my home and completed short forms noting my interest in participating at several. After a few weeks, I got a call to enroll in a Phase 3 study of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and I immediately said, “yes.”
The clinical trial is scheduled to last two years and the process has been extraordinarily thorough. This is my first clinical trial and I was impressed with the level of disclosure on risks and potential side effects, opportunities for me to ask questions, the thoroughness of the screening to determine my eligibility, and the follow up over the months I’ve been in the trial. I have regularly scheduled appointments where I’m tested for COVID-19, asked about any health changes, and often times get blood drawn for testing. The clinical staff are always willing to answer any questions I have either during the appointments or otherwise.
I got my first shot in August 2020 and the follow-up shot three weeks later without incident. As part of the trial, I log into an app on my phone to easily record any changes in my health status. The trial site also provided me with a thermometer, a self-administered COVID-19 test, and an emergency number to call if I have any issues or suspect I may have been exposed to or infected with COVID-19. My clinical trial journey continues for 24 months in total as sponsors continue to monitor safety and effectiveness among both trial participants as well as those receiving the vaccines as they roll out globally. Otherwise, I’ve gone about my daily life – taking the mask-wearing, social-distancing, and hand-washing precautions as recommended – content in knowing that I’m making a small difference in the fight against a potent, invisible foe.
I can still remember the thrill I felt in hearing the news about the high level of effectiveness and safety of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines last November. It was the best news possible and meant that an end to the pandemic is within reach. I don’t think I stopped smiling that day. I took immense pride in knowing that I had played a part in such life-saving work. I also started getting calls from family and friends asking me if I knew when these vaccines would be available to the public. Of course, I was also extremely curious to know whether I’d gotten the actual vaccine or the placebo all those months ago.
Recently, I found out that I had received the placebo instead of the actual vaccine and was given the opportunity to continue the clinical trial but to move into the vaccinated segment of the trial. The timing could not have been better. My father is having heart surgery soon, and I needed to step into the role of caregiver. Being vaccinated against COVID-19 means one less worry. I received the first of two vaccines in early February and have the booster dose scheduled soon. My arm was a little sore after shot one, but, candidly, I had more arm soreness from the flu shot in the fall. The peace of mind it’s providing is priceless.
I know waiting for the opportunity to get vaccinated against COVID-19 is frustrating and many people have a lot of questions they want answered before pulling up their sleeves. While you wait, however, there are things you can do. Make a plan and get your questions answered so you can get vaccinated as soon as you are able. We also have the power to stop the spread and development of new variants—by doing the tried and true mask wearing, social distancing, and hand washing.
We’re all ready to move past COVID-19 and the end is in sight thanks to science. Not once have I regretted my decision to volunteer for the vaccine clinical trial. If presented the opportunity to participate in clinical trials in the future, I would strongly consider it. I’m proud of being able to play an important, small part in the fight against a deadly disease and incredibly relieved that these vaccines are paving a path forward from this pandemic.