For this volunteer, COVID-19 vaccine trial was a matter of social duty

Friday, January 15, 2021

ME Steele PierceThe medical and scientific communities have risen to the challenges created by  COVID-19, working tirelessly to bring an end to this chaotic time. Their work has led to the development of several promising vaccines. Clinical trials are an important part of vaccine development. These trials help scientists understand if a vaccine is safe, as well as how effective it is against its intended target. These trials often rely on volunteers, like M.E. Steel-Pierce, 71, of Clermont County.

Steele-Pierce, a 43-year resident of Miami Township, participated in the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine trial at University of Cincinnati Medical Center (UCMC).

Here, she shares her experience and talks about her desire to care for our neighbors.

Why did you volunteer for the vaccine trial?
Three main reasons.

First, my niece, Sharon, has worked at the UCMC Infectious Disease Department for 30 years. At the beginning of COVID, she reached out to me and asked if I would be willing to be an impartial witness. That means in order to confirm the required informed consent for COVID patients (who were isolated), I was a witness that gave a virtual affirmation that the patient had been read his/her rights.

When I found out there would be vaccine research, I asked if I was eligible, and after applying, I got into the vaccine trial. I don’t know for sure, but I think one of the reasons I was chosen was because of my age – 71.  

Second, I completely trusted the University of Cincinnati’s work.

And lastly, it is my belief that I am part of a social contract. I have strong spiritual beliefs that we care for one another and this was something I wanted and needed to do.

Were you concerned about your safety?

My friends and family were, but I was never scared. I really trusted the work of the doctors and researchers at UCMC because of my relationship with my niece and what I knew of her work, long before COVID. I trusted the science, the technology and medicine. I did lots of research and reading.

There were a number of questionnaires and a thorough in-person interview. Particularly comforting to me was the informed consent – it was something like 26 pages long. I asked dozens of questions, and I knew that if anything happened to me, I would be well-cared-for by that community.

My friends and family were very worried about me – that I would be exposed to COVID – but that wasn’t it at all. After the injection, you simply go on living your life, just as you were prior to the injection.

I also had a ton of people praying for me. I felt safe and supported every step of the way.

What was the process like?

During each visit to UCMC, I had extensive bloodwork which will be studied even after COVID. I got a physical every time I visited UCMC. And then there’s the dreaded “nasal jab” COVID test that I had to get. My injections were one month apart. After my first injection, I had no side effects at all.

After the second injection, one month later, I had a reaction which told me (even though I didn’t know for sure because it was a blind trial) that I had received the vaccine – I had a temperature. I was instructed to call if I spiked a fever of 100.4, so I did. I had muscle and joint aches. Knowing all this, I thought “go, antibodies, go!” I knew this was my body doing what it’s supposed to be doing. My side effects lasted for about 24 hours. I took Tylenol and went to bed early. It was uncomfortable, but not frightening or debilitating.

How often did you visit UCMC?

A total of five times. Once for my initial interview, again for each of my two injections, once for my follow up, and I’m to visit soon to be unblinded. At that time, we will discover if we were “Team Vaccine” or “Team Placebo.” If we did not receive the vaccine, we can get it at that time.

I will have more bloodwork, another physical, nasal swab and another physical if I receive the vaccine then.

What would you tell people who have concerns about the vaccine?

The number one concern I hear is that the development of the vaccine was too rushed. My answer to that is: the medical and scientific communities have 100 years of research and a large body of knowledge about viruses. Yes, this is a new virus, but the medical community has much knowledge about how viruses work. I find it hopeful, and almost miraculous, that researchers and scientists came together to focus all their work on creating this vaccine for this virus.

I also know that people are worried they will get COVID through the vaccine. I try to explain, not being a scientist or part of the medical community, that when someone receives the vaccine, they are not receiving any piece of the virus. They are receiving a protein (mRNA 12-73) that teaches the body to create antibodies that will produce an immune reaction should it be infected by the COVID-19 virus.

In your opinion, why is it important for people to get vaccinated?

I believe that we have been commanded to love one another and care for our neighbor. I think getting vaccinated is one way of caring for our neighbor and our immediate and our larger community. That is my non-scientific answer – my heart and gut answer.

Of course, anyone interested in getting the vaccine should consult with their physician.

So, to sum it all up, I say: when your turn comes, get the vaccination, for yourself, for your family for your community.