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GUEST COLUMN: I am a volunteer in a clinical trial program for a COVID-19 vaccine

I wanted to do something — anything — that could help hasten the end of this global coronavirus nightmare.

When I learned there would be phase three clinical trials in the Detroit area for the COVID-19 vaccine, I asked my doctor if he thought I should apply. He paused a beat and then said, “You’re exactly what they are looking for.”

I am 57 years old. I suffer from a severe autoimmune disorder that I manage very well with medication and exercise. I had a massive heart attack in 2016 (probably from complications of my autoimmune disorder, since I have no indicators or family history of heart disease), which resulted in two stints in my coronary arteries. My official diagnosis is coronary artery disease.

Considering all that, I am in remarkably good health: I am not overweight; I do not have high blood pressure nor high cholesterol; I eat well, exercise daily, and rarely get sick. I also work in a public building, although it closed to the public just before I started the trial. If I had black or brown skin, I would have checked all the boxes for trial participants.

Not surprisingly, they accepted me into the Johnson & Johnson vaccine trial, which is running approximately two to three months behind Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca. One thing that sets Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine apart from those front-runners is that it is one-dose, rather than two. Considering most people cannot remember to return their library books on time, it may be too much to expect them to come back for a second dose.

I traveled to Henry Ford Hospital in downtown Detroit on Friday, Nov. 20. The visit was approximately three hours in length, most of which consisted of conversing in a small room with a very kind and friendly nurse who listened as I explained my medical history in detail. She called a doctor in to question me about the last time I used steroids to control my autoimmune disorder.

The next part, when she described the development of the vaccine and reviewed a multitude of risks related to clinical trials, was scary, but I try not to worry about worst-case scenarios – it never pays.

I agreed to let them study me for two years. I’ll be back for eight visits, during which several vials of my blood will be drawn, and I will be tested for COVID-19.

I got trained on an app to report anything unusual, and given cell phone numbers for the doctors conducting the study. This is probably the hardest part for me. I grew up in Howell in a large family in which we were always encouraged to “tough it out”; we learned to put on a game face and play hurt. Now I am expected to report things I consider truly minor: low-grade fever, coughing, body aches; anything that may be an indicator for COVID-19.

I received a shot that day. Since this is a double-blind study, I do not know if it was the vaccine or a placebo.

After the shot, I took a lovely 4-mile walk around the City of Detroit. By the time I went to bed that evening, I had a monster headache, and was experiencing clamminess and chills. The headache persisted through the next day, and subsided thereafter. Even if I do not experience symptoms, I report through the app two days a week. My next visit to Henry Ford is Dec. 18.

Johnson & Johnson is paying me to participate in the vaccine trial. If I complete the entire study (which I fully intend to do), the total payment is over $1,100. I am not for sale and I do not want the money; I will make sure it gets to a family that needs it as the result of COVID-19.

I wanted to do something — anything — that could potentially help hasten the end of this global nightmare. This is what I could do. What can you do? Please remember to wear a mask; take care of yourself and someone else if you can; and keep the faith.

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Howell resident Kathleen Murray is the communications coordinator for the Howell Carnegie District Library.

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