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North Canton business owner volunteers as guinea pig in COVID-19 vaccine trial

Posted at 9:51 PM, Aug 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-13 23:30:54-04

NORTH CANTON, Ohio — In the midst of running a printing ink business, Cartridge World in north Canton, Steve Tirrell worries thinking about the uncertainty of coronavirus still looming over the nation.

“Something like this is I guess the first time in my lifetime I’ve seen anything like this so definitely concerned and you know OK what are we going to do? How are we going to protect ourselves,” Tirrell said.

So, the 55-year-old decided to sign up as a human guinea pig to help with a solution.

“I was trying to stay up on all of that to see what kind of cures that they had for it and where they were going along on the vaccine front so that’s how I found out about this trial,” he said. “I thought it was worth doing. I mean someone’s gotta do it, right?”

Pfizer and a partnering company, BioNTech, are conducting that trial, which is currently in its third phase. They’re testing a COVID-19 vaccine on 30,000 people ages 18 to 85 who have not been infected with the virus. Participants have been promised up to $800. However, only half of them will actually receive the vaccine. The other half unknowingly getting a placebo injection.

“I got a response that said will get in touch with you and then they called me up asked a whole bunch of medical questions and then went to head and enrolled me,” Tirrell said. “If I go through the whole thing and I have to drive down to Columbus six times and then find out in the end that I got saline solution I’d be a little upset.”

Tirrell says it took four hours to receive his first vaccine injection at the Aventiv lab in Columbus.

He says most of that time spent going through paperwork and completing a COVID-19 test.

“Right after it happened I was pretty sure that I probably got the placebo because I didn’t feel anything at all I mean they just give you a plain little shot in the arm which was no big deal. It wasn’t until that evening I started getting a little soreness around where they gave me the shot and then the next morning actually I felt kind of like I had a mild hangover. My stomach was off a little bit and then later in the day I got a mild headache,” Tirrell said. “It seemed like when I was reading up on the prior studies that candidates generally had a bigger reaction the second shot so I’ll probably be able to tell better whether I really got the real thing or not after the second shot.”

Tirrell has five more lab visits and only one injection left, which will take place over two next two years. However, his next injection will take place on August 31.

"They do the first shot. They do the second shot three weeks later and then they draw your blood a month out, six months out, a year out, and two years out,” he said.

If all things go well with this trial and Pfizer gets an emergency approval from the FDA, the company’s website states up to 100 million vaccine doses could be distributed globally by the end of this year and 1.3 billion by the end of 2021. In the meantime, Tirrell says he’s staying positive and hoping a cure will revive his business and help everyone stay COVID-19 free.

“I think that the vaccine is the key to getting us back to normal. I think we’re all going to be wearing masks or watching how many people were with and everything else until we get something like this. So, I’m anxious for it to happen so we can get back to living life the way we’re supposed to.”