Why I volunteered for a COVID-19 vaccine trial

Vaccines are designed to trigger an immune response to pathogens we’ve never encountered before. But how does it feel to be one of the first humans to encounter a new vaccine? British communications consultant Heather Macdonald-Tait explains what motivated her to participate in a trial of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, and describes her experiences so far.

  • 6 October 2020
  • 5 min read
  • by Linda Geddes
Why I volunteered for a COVID-19 vaccine trial
Why I volunteered for a COVID-19 vaccine trial


How did you hear about the vaccine trial?

I was sent a link by a friend on Facebook who wanted to sign up but didn't think they qualified to take part. We were in deep dark lockdown at the time, and I was feeling quite dark about everything. It was great to have something that I could do, even just in applying for the trial, that felt like I was making some kind of contribution towards changing things.

How did your family react to your decision to apply for the trial?

I always have enjoyed really good health and I felt like if there was anybody who was well positioned to go on a clinical trial, it would be somebody who feels healthy and is relatively fit. I did mention it to my husband before I signed up though, just to make sure he was happy with me making this commitment. He was absolutely fine with it, and was quite keen to volunteer himself, but I did say I think only one of us should apply – just because we're parents, and we have an obligation to not take unnecessary risks for the sake of our children. I wasn’t overly concerned though, because I thought that by the time they get to human trials, some testing has already taken place.

What happened next?

I didn’t hear anything for a few weeks and just kind of forgot about it. Then I got a phone call asking if I could come in the following Monday for a screening interview. They asked me a whole load of medical questions, asked me to do a pregnancy test which was negative, and took some blood - I presume to test for antibodies to the virus. I was also given a whole raft of information about the trial and its implications. At several stages I was asked if I was happy to go forward with the trial and told that I could leave at any time. It was all very reassuring. 

What you were injected with?

I don't know. There are various groups who are being given different dosages of either the COVID vaccine or the placebo, which is a vaccine for meningitis. So, either I’m really immune to meningitis or I might have some immunity to COVID.

What happened after that?

I was warned to look out for a temperature, and to self-isolate if I developed one. I was also told to expect mild flu-like symptoms and possibly an uncomfortable arm, but that I wouldn't need to report those. The only thing I experienced was sore abdominal muscles, but I’m pretty sure that was the result of doing a high intensity interval training workout in the park, rather than the vaccine.

How else have they been monitoring you?

I was sent away with a stack of COVID tests because I have to do a swab of my throat and nostrils every week. The first time I did it, I was a bit nervous, so I wiped down everything, read the instructions several times and watched a couple of YouTube videos. I also I have to fill out a weekly questionnaire, which asks me how often I've exercised and been to supermarkets, whether I've been to church, pubs or restaurants, and that sort of thing. A month after the injection, I was asked to go in for a blood test, and I was also invited back to receive a second dose of the vaccine, and then another blood test.

How do you feel now that cases of COVID-19 are starting to creep back up in the UK?

Since the early results of the study have started coming out, I've felt like there is a chance that I am immune. I've been told very clearly not to act any differently than I would if I hadn’t received a vaccine, but I do feel slightly more relaxed about day-to-day life than I think I would otherwise. But my husband hasn’t been vaccinated, and I’m aware that while I’m out and about I could potentially pick the virus up and give it to him.

If you could go back in time, would you volunteer for the trial again?

Absolutely. It has been an interesting experience to find out how vaccine trials work, and it hasn’t been uncomfortable or a burden at all. It also makes me feel a bit more invested in what’s going on with the pandemic. Obviously, I would love any vaccine to succeed, but I would really like it to be the Oxford vaccine.