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Case study: “They make you feel very special and worthwhile” - vaccine trial volunteer

Patient story: Sharon

"The sooner we get vaccinated, the sooner we're all safe", Sharon recalls thinking to herself when she first decided to take part in a COVID-19 vaccine trial.

The self-employed 61-year-old from London signed-up as a research volunteer at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

The trial, supported locally by the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) North West London, is an international trial developed by Novavax, a US-based company specialising in vaccine development.

"The first appointment was to read through all the papers and things — asking any questions, getting weighed, doing a blood test. And then receiving the vaccination and waiting around until they said I was OK to leave", Sharon recalls. "Then I went back three weeks later for the same." Several similar follow-up appointments followed.

Taking part has given Sharon a greater understanding of vaccines. "It has made me more aware. I feel I have personal knowledge so if anybody asks me about it I can tell them", she said.

"...society gives to you, so sometimes you have to give back."

We now know that the Novavax trial has produced a successful COVID-19 vaccine, which is 89.3% effective. But at the time Sharon first signed-up, much was still unknown.

"If everybody sat at home and stared at the TV screen all day, how would we move on? You know, society gives to you, so sometimes you have to give back", Sharon said. "I'm no saint, but I do think that we have a duty of care to everybody around us."

Sharon is now a strong advocate for research. Taking part has been a great experience for her. "I've never been in a first class hotel. But I imagine you are treated in the same way I'm treated by the nurses and other staff members", Sharon said. "They make you feel very special and worthwhile. So it's worth taking part just for that."

"But also the fact that you're doing something that could help you and your family. If you can't see the bigger picture, at least you can do it for that."

"I’d tell anybody to get involved."

Sharon’s experience of research extends far beyond volunteering in the COVID-19 vaccine trial. Among other research studies she is volunteering in is a study looking at Vitamin D supplements, and another exploring yoga movements. Both of which have had a major positive impact on her life. "My health, wellbeing and flexibility have grown", Sharon said.

So does Sharon have a message for anyone thinking about taking part in research? "I’d tell anybody to get involved", she said.