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Living Out the OMI Charism: Fr. Ray Cook Participates in Pfizer Vaccine Trial December 30th, 2020
By Fr. Raymond Cook, OMI
As COVID-19 furiously attacked in the early months of the outbreak, the world was experiencing uncertainly, life changes and economic hardships. Rice University was, and still is, a microcosm of the world in which we live. Having our first confirmed case in February in the research lab, one of our Catholic community members contracted the virus and spent over two months recovering. The way in which her body reacted to the virus was severe, but it also was such that she was unable to develop antibodies against the virus even after being COVID free. Today every Rice student, faculty member, staff and visitors receive weekly COVID tests (nasal swabs) and masks are required as ALL times and no one can eat indoors in groups. Their success rate is a model for all universities. As of today, the positivity rate is far below 1% .
In May of 2020 a Rice Alumnus, who works for the Texas Drug and Development Center, put out a call to get volunteers to try the new RNA-based vaccine for Pfizer Phase II/III study. Because it was hitting so close to home, and my call as an Oblate compelled me to live out Constitution 2, I decided to sign up as a volunteer to participate in the double-blind study. Double blind essentially means that neither the participant nor the doctors know of you are receiving the vaccine or the placebo. I am patient 77 in this trial. In late July I received the call to make an appointment. I discussed it with friends and family and most advised against it because I am asthmatic. But after much time in prayer and guidance from our Lord Jesus, I decided to proceed.
In August I arrived and the appointment lasted four hours as they went through my complete medical history, medications I take, as well as any vitamins or minerals right down to Tart Cherry Extract that I take daily. They had to make sure, they said, if I reacted to the vaccine it was clear what may have caused the reaction. Thirty minutes before I left the clinic, I received the first of 2 doses. I sat there to wait for any severe reactions. Everything seemed fine. They sent me home with emergency contact cards, a COVID test kit (that they would retrieve at any hour of the day or night should I come down with symptoms), a thermometer, a gauge to measure the injection site, and an app to record daily updates. The next day I was scheduled to give blood and was informed that I would be unable to give blood for two years so they could determine how this vaccine affected the bloodstream. Needless to say, this was all a bit nerve-racking as I entered into an unknown study that will continue until August of 2022.
After the first round there were very little side effects except for some swelling and pain at the injection site. I presumed I may have received the placebo. A few weeks later I received the second injection during a two-hour appointment. A few days later I could hardly move as I was so exhausted – but the next day I was fine. “Maybe” I thought, “I received the real vaccine” but I could have also just been exhausted. Now some time has passed, and we have received the good news that the Pfizer Vaccine has a 95% success rate! I also learned that I will be “unblinded” soon and should I have received the placebo; I will be invited to receive the actual vaccine soon. Still, I will make quarterly visits, they will monitor my blood for 2 years as I am still in the trial phase and will continue to live as if I received a placebo to protect those around me.
Of course, I will continue to pray that the poor in our world will have access to the new vaccines. I also give thanks to God for creating minds that are able to protect the world through science.