What's It Like To Volunteer In A COVID-19 Vaccine Trial?

The Moderna Vaccine Trial is a blind study where participants don't know if they're getting a COVID-19 vaccine or a placebo.

What's It Like To Volunteer In A COVID-19 Vaccine Trial?
University of Illinois at Chicago

"It was not my intent to be involved at all, ever."

Bonnie Blue is Chicago's first COVID-19 vaccine participant and one of more than 25,000 people who have volunteered for the Moderna vaccine trial so far. She didn't intend to volunteer, but the rising death toll and an opportunity to save lives changed her mind.

Blue says, "My people typically are not very trustful, but what I'm looking at is you have to weigh it. Will you not do something that you really want to do to try to help humanity?" 

As a 68-year-old, asthmatic, Black woman, Blue fits into three high-risk categories for COVID-19. She spoke to us after she received her second and final injection. 

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"It was like going to your primary care for a flu shot," Blue says.   

Because this is a blind study, Blue doesn't know if she received the vaccine or a placebo. For the next two years, researchers will study her body's reaction to the injections and if she is protected from COVID — Although early trial results may be available later this year.  

Dr. Richard Novak, lead investigator of the clinical trial at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) says there is a myth that the vaccine can give you the coronavirus but that's simply not true.

“The other common myth is that we give people the infection to see if the vaccine works, " says Dr. Novack. "And that's also not true. Of course, we enroll people who are at risk for getting it, but if they get it, they get it naturally by going about their lives.” 

A nurse prepares a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine shot during clinical trials.

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Blue says she told her family and friends a few days before she volunteered. 

"They were not happy. My closest friends tried to talk me out of it," says Blue. 

She says her friends were concerned about her severe asthma and the history of racism in past clinical trials.  

Blue says, “No one that I know of has volunteered. … because it's not our ancestors, it's our family that these things have happened to and continue to happen to on some level.”

Blue gets about a $1,300 dollar stipend to cover travel and her time for the two years. Participating in clinical trials still comes with a risk because you don't know how your body will react. 

“People think that it was a brave thing to do, but I don't see it that way. I just see it as this is something that was for me to do,” says Blue.