What It's Like To Participate In A COVID Vaccine Trial

I’m A Teacher, And I’m Participating In The COVID-19 Vaccine Trial

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Whenever a new article about the COVID-19 vaccine pops up on Facebook, I wade gingerly into the comments. Anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists aside, the most frequent comment I see is something along the lines of, “it’s way too soon,” or “I’ll let them test it out on the guinea pigs before I get it.”

It’s understandable, of course; no vaccine has ever been developed in this short amount of time, and this vaccine, like masks, has been turned into a political football by our current administration.

But those guinea pigs you want to see tested first? That’s me. I’m your friendly neighborhood vaccine trial participant, and this is what I want you to know.

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I’m not brave.

The most common reaction I get when I tell people I’m part of the trial — after a look of shock or an incredulous, “are you sure that’s safe?” — is to be told I’m brave, or thanked for my service like I stormed the beaches at Normandy. But I didn’t do this because I’m brave. I’m a 40-year-old English teacher with seven-year-old twins and a handful of mild pre-existing conditions. I’m experiencing the same grief, the same desperate ache to go back to some degree of normalcy as everyone else. I spent six months of this pandemic feeling absolutely helpless, and volunteering for the trial felt like a small way I could hurry it along to a resolution.

I also consider myself a big advocate for science. I’m a keyboard warrior for action on climate change, masking up, and vaccinating my kids on schedule. When the chance to participate in the trial came up, it was time to put my money where my mouth is. And as a teacher who stocked up on masks and bought her own air purifier for her classroom, throwing one more precaution on the safety pile couldn’t hurt.

In the small online community of trial participants I belong to, it’s pretty much the same story. We are regular, everyday people with varied careers — doctors, bartenders, performing artists, stay-at-home moms — but what we all have in common is a deep belief in science and a trust that it’s the only way to get us out of all this. There is some pride in knowing that we will be a part of medical history, but mostly, we all just thought, if not me, then who?

It’s actually pretty mundane.

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Before I signed up, I knew a little about medical trials, but I had never stopped to think about how or why people joined one. I heard on our local public radio station that the hospital near me was looking for participants, so I emailed the site coordinator, and before I knew it, I was at the lab getting my first injection.

All trials are different, but for this, one, I had to show that I would have enough possible exposure to the coronavirus to enroll in the trial. The data don’t mean anything if none of the participants leaves their house. As a teacher going back to school on a hybrid model even though my school has been diligent about safety precautions — I met that criteria.

I got my first shot in the beginning of September, and my second shot three weeks later. I don’t know if I got the actual vaccine or the placebo, and neither does anyone at my testing site. I have to go back a few times over the next two years for blood draws, and I fill out a weekly journal. I do get paid — not enough to put a pool in the backyard, but enough to cover winter boots and coats for my kids without dipping into our bank account. Because I don’t know if I got the vaccine or the placebo, I live my life like everyone else.

I think you should get one.

Look, I don’t have any insider information just because I’m part of the trial, and I’m not a scientist or a medical professional, but I am a teacher and I know how to research the shit out of something. Before I enrolled, I read every credible source I could find, listened to vaccine experts like Anthony Fauci and Paul Offit, and asked tons of questions of the doctors and nurses at my testing site. As a mom of two little kids, I would never have done something that I thought might jeopardize my safety.

I had no side effects with my first shot, and mild pain in my arm with the second. It’s entirely possible that I got the placebo, or I may have had a mild reaction. Some people do seem to have temporary reactions to the shot — they describe it as a hungover or flu-like feeling that lasts for a couple of days. But of course, it’s nothing compared to COVID-19.

It’s true that no vaccine has been developed in under four years before, but the speed of the vaccine’s development does not actually mean it’s unsafe. No one, especially not the vaccine developers, wants to distribute a vaccine that turns out to create more problems than it solves. Based on the data we have, the vaccine is very safe. COVID-19 is not. Hundreds of thousands of people are dying, the virus is not slowing down, and we don’t know how the virus may ravage the body in the long-term. A vaccine won’t immediately bring us back to the lives we had back in February 2020. But it’s going to be the best way we can protect ourselves and the people we love. If I can do it, so can you.

Information about COVID-19 is rapidly changing, and Scary Mommy is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. With news being updated so frequently, some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For this reason, we are encouraging readers to use online resources from local public health departments, the Centers for Disease Control, and the World Health Organization to remain as informed as possible.