Why I volunteered for the coronavirus vaccine trials

My phone hasn’t stop ringing for days with requests for TV and radio interviews from local, national and international media outlets across the globe.

This is not how I expected my week to turn out. It all started after I saw a Twitter poll posted by Money Saving Expert founder Martin Lewis asking who would volunteer in the coronavirus vaccine trials.

Most replies said things like, ‘you’d have to be stupid or desperate for money’ or ‘no way – it’s just not safe’.

But without thinking about it, I replied, saying I was really pleased to be volunteering in the trial, something I’d signed up and been screened for a couple of weeks earlier. Martin quote-tweeted me to his thousands of followers, and then things got weird.

Until I experienced people’s reactions to my decision to volunteer, I hadn’t realised that some might think it was unusual or worthy of attention. I’ve been told that I’m selfless, but I don’t feel that way at all.

Put simply, I decided to take part because I think it’s the right thing to do. Like everyone else, my life has been turned upside down by this pandemic. At times, I feel helpless, scared and frustrated. But volunteering as a participant in the research study has given me a positive way to feel that I’m contributing to our society’s best efforts to find a solution to the virus. 

I’m not alone in feeling this way.

Within a few days of advertising for participants on Twitter, the researchers had to start turning people away. This crisis has made me reflect again on my privileges – I’m a white, middle class woman in good health, with enough resources to meet my family’s needs at the moment, so I’m not in any of the groups of people who are disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

So, I feel that I am able to bear the risk of participating in this study. My husband and two teenage children all support me, which is important, because they are affected too.

I’m more worried about what might happen if we don’t get a vaccination

Apart from the inevitable messages from conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers, the most common reaction to my decision has been to tell me that I’m ‘brave’.

My family would tell you that I am really not a brave person, or a natural risk-taker. I am scared of answering the phone, hate horror films, and you couldn’t pay me enough money to bungee jump. 

The Cambridge English Dictionary definition of brave is: ‘Showing no fear of dangerous or difficult things’. So, is this a dangerous thing to be doing? I guess people will have different perspectives on this.

This vaccine trial is regulated by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), and has been approved by the NHS ethical review bodies.

I owe a lot to the NHS – my children and I needed a lot of help when they were born, and they were there to wrap their arms around my family and keep us safe. This feels like a small way of paying them back.

Of course, there is a degree of uncertainty – the researchers can’t promise participants that we won’t have an allergic reaction, or that there won’t be side effects of the vaccination. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t have some worry about that and I have discussed what might go wrong with my family, who are completely behind me.

But I’m more worried about what might happen if we don’t get a vaccination. I really miss being able to see my parents, and they miss being able to see their grandchildren. And realistically, a vaccine is the best way out of lockdown. So, my concerns seem very small in comparison with the risks of us not developing one.

It all boils down to whether I trust the research team, and I do.

For me, it’s not a difficult decision because all the hard work has been done by the research scientists. I just need to show up for the injection, and then let my body get on with incubating the vaccine, and report back to the team about any effects on my health.

To make sure I was fit enough to go ahead with a trial I had to go to a health screening, which involved watching a video about the trial, then a session with a doctor and a nurse. They did loads of health checks (pulse, blood pressure, listening to my chest, blood and urine tests) and went through the participant information sheet and consent form with me.

I was so moved by how committed the team were, and how professional.

Admittedly, it all felt a little unreal at times, but afterwards I had a spring in my step which had been missing for a while. It’s like being part of a team who are working together to find a solution – a team who look at an enormous mountain and are determined to climb it, to put one foot in front of the other, together, until we all get to the top.

The vaccination is happening this Thursday and I think I will feel nervous on the day, because it will be more ‘real’ then. Plus, I don’t like having injections! 

But I still don’t think I’ll consider myself as brave. The really brave people are our NHS, social care and criminal justice workers, who show up to work every day in services which have been transformed by this pandemic. They don’t know whether they are protected from infection, but they still do their best to care for people.

Delivery drivers, supermarket staff, home care workers, and the people who deliver newspapers, post and milk are suddenly our frontline workers in ways we couldn’t have anticipated. They are the brave ones, and I’m thankful for their service.

As I see it, taking part in this trial is a small act of resistance in a world which is suddenly full of fear and worry. Being a tiny part of this process also gives me a huge amount of hope, and we all need a bit of that right now.

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