Politics

Covering Ebola Didn’t Prepare Me for This: I Volunteered for the Covid-19 Vaccine Trial

George Washington University Hospital invited me to participate in Moderna’s vaccine trial because I am triple-risk: a Black woman, a Type 1 diabetic and asthmatic.


By Helene Cooper

WASHINGTON — The unfamiliar voice on my cellphone three weeks ago had the “You have been selected” greeting that usually signals someone trying to sell you something. But this was no telemarketer.

I had been chosen, the woman said, “to participate in the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine trial.” She introduced herself as Hira Qadir, a clinical research coordinator at George Washington University Hospital. I was tediously stirring a roux for the seafood gumbo I was making for dinner, and her startling announcement stopped me cold.

In an instant, a dozen emotions ran through me, chief among them fear.

In late July, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, had testified before Congress that volunteers were needed for vaccine trials that were continuing. I had gone to the website — www.coronaviruspreventionnetwork.org — and filled out the questionnaire with my medical history and personal information.

“I signed up for a Covid vaccine trial,” I texted a group of friends, all reporters with smart mouths on them. But one response gave me pause.

“I admire your dedication to the cause,” my friend Mark Mazzetti told me. But he was clear in his text: “You gotta be really careful given your underlying condition. You could be given a placebo and sent to hang out in hot spots.”

I hadn’t thought of the placebo part of the vaccine trial when I signed up. I am a Type 1 diabetic — a chronic autoimmune disorder I have had since I was 15, with asthma to boot, so I am firmly in the high-risk category. That had been made clear to me by Dr. Fauci himself in early March when I ran into him in the green room for NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“What happens if I get Covid?” I had asked him.

“I’m not saying you’re a dead duck,” he replied, “but I cannot stress enough that you really need to not get it.”

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