Why volunteer for a COVID-19 vaccine trial? Central Reform rabbi says: To build trust in the process

Rabbi Daniel Bogard of Central Reform Congregation is participating in Pfizer’s Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial.

By Eric Berger, Associate Editor

Normally, a sacrifice might make a Jew feel weak and lay in bed on Yom Kippur.

For Rabbi Daniel Bogard of Central Reform Congregation that weakness hit him two days before the Jewish Day of Atonement, when Jews typically fast.

He had made a different sacrifice: participating in Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine trial.

Bogard is one of 44,000 people volunteering in a Phase 3 clinical trial of the vaccine, which is being manufactured at the company’s facility in St. Louis.

The 37-year-old rabbi received a second dose in the trial the Friday before Yom Kippur. Neither the person administering the shot nor Bogard were told whether he received the vaccine or the placebo, but Bogard took three showers that night because he couldn’t shake the chills, he said.

Now recovered, Bogard, a father of three, spoke with the Jewish Light about his reasons for participating in the trial and about the experience.

What motivated you to participate?

We need people to step up. A vaccine is what it’s going to take to get us back to something like a normal world, and so on some level I felt an ethical obligation, like everyone else.

But the other piece — and this was a big one for me — is that we don’t have a president or a governor who are trustworthy sources of information. The president has at this point corrupted the [U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] to the point where it is at least at times a questionable source of information. So in a world where our trustworthy sources are hard to agree upon, I think it takes leaders at much more local levels to stand up and say, ‘Look, I am a part of this vaccine trial; it is not a conspiracy theory.’

If this vaccine is approved before the election or even after the election and Donald Trump comes out and starts endorsing it, there are going to be a lot of people like me who are going to have some real questions about it and the process.

And I think it’s important that there be people like myself who can stand up in a very public way and say, ‘I am a part of this. I have gotten this shot. I am OK. Please get this shot also. Please help us protect the vulnerable and please help us return to a normal world.’

I would be pretty nervous to participate in a trial like this. Were you?

Yeah, I was pretty nervous. I talked with my family and talked with a number of medical professionals. It’s a Phase 3 trial, which means it’s not primarily being tested to see if it, God forbid, is going to significant harm to you. It’s primarily being tested for its efficacy, so much less risky there.

And I also felt pretty strongly that, look, short term, there are of course questions about the shot and how it will impact your health, but long term, we are not going to be able to follow this vaccine with a trial for five years before we release it to everyone else. The reality is all of us are going to be getting a vaccine sometime in the next year, God willing, science willing, all the hard-work-willing that these people are putting in.

So when I really thought about it, I didn’t feel that I was risking that much more than all of us are probably going to.

Let’s say this vaccine gets approved and people are skeptical, are you planning on sharing your story and talking with people to reassure them that it is safe?

That’s my hope. This is the first public conversation I have had about my participation. I have had lots of private conversations, and I think I posted about it on Twitter, but no one follows me on Twitter. Facebook is much more my public social media forum, and I haven’t talked about it there yet, truthfully because I had an aunt who really didn’t want me to get this vaccine, and I know it’s going to upset her when she finds out.

What was the aftermath of getting both shots?

The first shot, I got a really sore arm, kind of like when you have a flu shot. The night after the first shot, I tossed and turned all night because my arm hurt so much, so I had an inkling that maybe I didn’t get just the saline solution.

Three weeks later, I went back for the second shot, relatively similar process. It was again, an almost three-hour appointment. That’s the biggest commitment, truthfully, is they are going to take a lot of my time over these next two years, but after that shot, I remember going home thinking, ‘Huh, my arm’s not sore this time. Maybe I did just get the saline solution,’ and that evening I started to feel a little, just, yuck. And then I started getting achy and then over the course of the night, I was really achy. I think I got up and took three showers because I kept getting the chills and not being able to shake them.

The next day, I didn’t get out of bed. I think I was out of bed for 20 minutes. I didn’t turn on the TV, I didn’t look at my phone. I just laid there for a day.

And then Sunday, erev Yom Kippur, that day I was low-energy, but felt relatively fine other than that, and by Yom Kippur, I was fine.

This was not a typically Yom Kippur or High Holy Days for me. I turned into a live producer [for the congregation’s streaming services,] but it meant that I was not thinking like a rabbi, even a little bit, and so there was something that felt very sacred about getting the shot right before Yom Kippur in the sense of the gates of life and death. It felt like it was a way I could contribute in a real concrete way to the world and to preserving life.

You said you’re going to be participating in this for years?

The commitment is two years. Any time I feel even the least bit sick, like if I am having a bad seasonal allergy day, I have to call them and they have me do a coronavirus test on myself, like the one you stick it way up your nose and then you twist it around for 10 seconds. It’s so painful, and then a courier shows up at my door — I think the last time it was within 45 minutes of me calling – to take it to the lab where they run the test.

So I don’t know if they will continue doing it like that for the next two years, but that is the story, so far, and man, those things hurt.

Given that you were feeling so bad after the second shot, does that change your thinking on the vaccine? Is that the way it will be for everyone if they get this vaccine?

It’s very clear that not everyone is having the extent of the reaction that I had. If you sort of just Google around and look, there seem to be a fair number of people who do. But the flipside is, I get the flu vaccine, and I almost always have a day where I feel yuck afterwards, and this was like that, just worse.

But in a second I would trade that over and over again for not personally getting coronavirus, but much more significantly, I think we get a vaccine to protect ourselves, but even more so, to protect everyone around us.

All of us can go get a shot and be a hero.