'I feel like a part of history': COVID-19 vaccine trial participants share journeys on TikTok

Participants in COVID-19 vaccine trials are sharing their journeys on TikTok. (Photo: Getty Images)
Participants in COVID-19 vaccine trials are sharing their journeys on TikTok. (Photo: Getty Images)

Social media is playing a part in the fight against the coronavirus. In an effort to amplify the efforts of researchers everywhere to provide a safe and effective vaccine, some COVID-19 vaccine trial participants across the U.S. have taken to TikTok to document their experiences as volunteers.

Ashley Locke, a 29-year-old living in Nashville, Tenn., is one of them after posting a video to her TikTok page one week ago announcing that she will be a part of the AstraZeneca vaccine trial taking place in her area. Since her first vaccination from Clinical Research Associates, Inc., Locke has been providing updates on her symptoms, the trial process and her thoughts on the vaccine to her growing online audience.

“I receive newsletters from my city councilman, Colby Sledge. In one of his newsletters, he mentioned that Clinical Research Associates in Nashville needed volunteers for a COVID vaccine trial. I applied, and after a follow-up phone call, my first appointment was scheduled,” Locke tells Yahoo Life via email. “It wasn’t a difficult decision for me to decide to participate.”

The young woman, who is working two jobs from home, explains that she nor anybody in her immediate family has tested positive for COVID-19. However, she’s seen friends suffer to varying degrees from the coronavirus pandemic while witnessing its detrimental fallout all over the world.

“It’s been devastating to see the impact this has had on people over the course of the year,” she says. “I don’t have any pre-existing conditions, and I’m young and healthy, but it’s been a rough time for me. I can’t imagine what it's been like for those who do have health issues! I wanted to be a part of the trial for those people.”

Since posting her first video about the vaccine trial on Nov. 16, Locke has gained upwards of 25,000 followers on her TikTok account. The initial video alone even received 2.6 million views as of Tuesday afternoon. The reason for publicizing her experience, she says, is to ease any hesitation about the safety of the vaccine. “People I know who get their flu shots every year were feeling nervous about how quickly the vaccine was made,” she explains. “I thought that if I documented my experience, people would see that it’s not scary at all! I wanted to let people peek behind the curtain and see how safe (and cool) the process is.”

After getting such a large response to the initial video, she’s felt compelled to post follow-ups for people interested in her journey, providing updates on symptoms and the regular check-ins she has to complete for researchers. And although she’s received countless comments disagreeing with her views on the vaccine and even suggesting that it might harm her, Locke is determined to be fully transparent about the process.

“I haven’t filtered anything that I’ve been sharing. I think it’s necessary to be open and honest about it all, so if I start to experience symptoms, I'm going to let everyone know,” she says. “I want others to know they can trust the work that's being done on this vaccine behind the scenes, but if my followers can’t trust me then that message is lost.”

Will Krugman, marketing and communications director at Clinical Research Associates, tells Yahoo Life that transparency is key in a vaccine trial of this sort and says that Locke has been helpful in that effort. “I’m glad that she is talking about vaccines and research in such an open way. That’s something that we definitely want to do,” Krugman explains. “Whenever somebody has a question about research or about our process or methods, we want to answer those questions and be transparent with them as well.”

He even shares that while social media was not a large part of the group’s initial strategy to reach their goal of 1,000 participants, Locke’s videos have led dozens of people in the Nashville area to sign up for this specific trial. Her efforts have even reinforced those of researchers to gain participation from an inclusive demographic.

“It does usually skew older,” Krugman says of the demographic of trial participants. “Usually above 40, usually men. But we are closely monitoring this and we want to recruit people from all backgrounds and make sure that everybody feels like they are represented in the clinical research that goes into this vaccine.”

Chelsea Regina, a 29-year-old singer from Atlanta, Ga., is also sharing her first-hand experience as a participant in the Pfizer trial with her TikTok audience. Similar to Locke, Regina tells Yahoo Life, “I’m young and healthy and I’d like to help in any way I can.”

Regina, her husband and their 2-year-old child have all managed to stay safe during the pandemic thus far. After seeing a Facebook advertisement for the trial taking place at Atlanta Center for Medical Research, however, she was immediately interested in checking it out and says that it all came together quickly. Her own curiosity about the trial led her to believe that people following her on social media would be interested in the process as well.

“I am an avid TikTok creator already and love the platform and how information there can travel fast, so I thought it would be fun and informative to share my experience there. I wanted to know for my own curiosity and felt an obligation to keep others informed as well,” she says. “I think we are all on edge about what’s going to happen and when, and I know a lot of people would not like to be the guinea pigs so it’s much better to watch someone else do it and see what happens.”

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Although Locke and Regina are participating in two separate trials, both women explain that they’ll be monitored by doctors at their respective research facilities over the course of two years through online surveys, phone calls and in-person appointments. Neither of the women knows whether they received the vaccine or placebo, nor will they receive monetary compensation for their participation until the end of the two-year trial.

“Different studies have different payouts, but mine is $750 for time and travel paid at the end of the study,” Locke shares of the AstraZeneca trial. “They don’t want anyone to take the money and not show up for the rest of the study.”

“It was $150 per shot and then $5 per each journal entry,” Regina says, explaining that the Pfizer trial consists of two shots total and weekly journal entries meant to track symptoms.

Both women tell Yahoo Life that the process has been “worth it” so far. Locke says that she’d even be willing to participate in the trial for no payment at all.

“I feel like a part of history,” she says. “What I’m doing is so minor in the scheme of things. Our health professionals have been heroes since day one, and I’m happy to be a part of helping us get closer to a widely available vaccine. I’m hoping that a year from now, everyone is on their way to a big Thanksgiving, ready to give long hugs to everyone they've been missing.”

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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