Joni and Mike Vujovich smiling outdoors one year before COVID-19 clinical trials.

My mom was in a COVID-19 vaccine trial

When it comes to the COVID-19 vaccines, there’s a lot of confusion and concern floating around at the moment.

Should I get it? Am I eligible? Where do I go? Do I call my doctor’s office, the health department or the local pharmacy?

Then there are the questions about the vaccine itself.

Less than a year after a national emergency was declared in the United States, we had not one but two vaccine candidates, with more to quickly follow.

How is that possible? Are we sure they are safe? How do we know they are as effective as we’ve been told? Is the science good, or did we skip a few steps for the sake of speed?

As someone who works in health care, you might think that I wouldn’t have the same questions as the rest of the world, but I do. And, that’s okay.

As a person of faith and science, I know that questions are the foundation of both. Questions lead us to the truth. And, in the case of the COVID-19 vaccines, these questions are exactly the reasons why the clinical trials have been so strict, thorough and detailed.

I know all of this because my mom is one of more than 30,000 participants in the Moderna Phase 3 vaccine study.

“If this is what it takes…”

The first thing you need to know is that I’m a mama’s boy and proud of it.

I love my mom dearly and would do anything for her, but since she lives far away and is over 65, I realized early in the pandemic that keeping her safe could only be done from a distance.

So I couldn’t help but be a little worried when I called her last summer. She told me she was enrolling in a COVID-19 vaccine trial.

Joni Vujovich wears face mask in office during COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial

“There was a story in the local newspaper that said they didn’t have enough volunteers in my age group, so I called,” she said.

Now you must know that my mom is one of the most selfless people in the world and will do anything for anyone. Even though she’s always been that way, her choice to enroll in the COVID-19 vaccine trial surprised me.

At first, I thought it was so cool that she would enroll, and I was so proud of her, both of which I told her.

Then, as I realized that this vaccine was only months old and had only been tested on a few hundred people at that time, the questions came.

When does the trial start? What happens if you get COVID-19 during the trial? Will you know if you get the vaccine or the placebo? What if you have a reaction? What will you have to do? Does it have to be you?

Are you sure you want to do this?

And that’s when she stopped me, and, in the way that only mothers can, gave me the only answer I needed to hear:

“If this is what it takes to help save just one life, then it’s worth it.”

What it’s like to be in a COVID-19 vaccine trial

Before Mom could officially sign up for the trial, the team called and asked her a variety of questions to determine if she was a good candidate. She was, so they scheduled her first appointment on the spot.

The team walked her through the process and answered all of her questions. The clinical trial was pretty straightforward. In fact, if you have already got your COVID-19 vaccine, this may sound familiar.

Mom would get two shots, 28 days apart. Since the study was double-blind with a placebo for the control group, neither she nor the team giving her the shot would know if she received the vaccine or the placebo.

She kept an eye out for any side effects and reported back to the team daily about how she was feeling through a mobile app.

Despite all my questions and concerns, the clinical trial went well. As for side effects, Mom said the only thing out of the ordinary that she reported was arm pain where she got the shot.

Six months later and still going strong

As you know, a lot has happened since Mom enrolled in the COVID-19 vaccine trial last August. Two vaccine candidates, including Moderna, were approved by the FDA for emergency authorization use in December, and millions of people in the United States and around the world have received at least one dose of vaccine already.

Where did that leave Mom?

Well, when the vaccines were approved and started shipping out, one of the biggest questions on both of our minds was whether she would be “unblinded” sooner rather than later. To be “unblinded” means the clinical research team tells you if you’ve received the vaccine or the placebo.

Questions about the COVID-19 vaccine?

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Given the unique circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, Moderna “unblinded” their study so participants would know if they needed to get a vaccine if they hadn’t received one during the trial.

A few nights before Mom was scheduled to find out whether she got the vaccine or the placebo, I asked her which one she thought she got. “You first,” she said.

“I think you got the vaccine. I don’t know how I know, but I feel it,” I told her.

“Me too,” she replied.

Thankfully, we were right.

The team confirmed that Mom had been fully vaccinated since September, which instantly put this mama’s boy’s heart and mind at ease.

Since the Moderna trial is a two-year study, they asked if Mom would like to stay in for the full two years, and, of course, she said yes. So, she will continue sending updates to the team for a little while longer.

And, how does Mom feel after six months vaccinated?

“I haven’t grown gills, and I don’t glow in the dark. All in all, I feel great.”

As for me, science answered most of my questions, but I got the only answer I ever needed from Mom:

“If this is what it takes to help save just one life, then it’s worth it.”

I got my second dose last week.

About Author: Michael Vujovich

An OSF Mission Partner for over a decade, Michael Vujovich describes himself as a “photo-taking, guitar-playing, web-designing, house-remodeling, Netflix-binging, cat-loving Star Wars geek.”

As Director of Marketing Technology & Multimedia, he oversees a team of digital marketing and multimedia experts who help manage web, social media, photo, video, audio and digital advertising strategies for the OSF Ministry.

Mike earned his Bachelor of Science in Multimedia from Bradley University in 2007 and a Master of Science in Health Administration from the University of St. Francis in 2014.

In his spare time, Mike enjoys reading, traveling and spending time with his wife and their three “fur children”: Marie, Sookie and Bella.

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Categories: COVID-19, Patient Stories