‘I feel great’: Veteran volunteers in Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine trial

CLEVELAND (WJW) — “I feel great”: It is the answer to the question that Desmond Kennedy gets anywhere from eight to 800 times a day.

He’s one of large group of veterans at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center who has volunteered to test a potential vaccine for COVID-19.

“I would have never have known that I got a shot. Everyone always asks me, ‘How do you feel? How do you feel?’ And I said, it’s a vaccine. I shouldn’t feel any side effects because if I do that means something is wrong. I feel great,” Desmond said.

Kennedy was one of the first to volunteer to take the vaccine that Pfizer and German drugmaker BioNTech are running clinical trials for. Pfizer’s Portage, Michigan, plant is manufacturing the vaccine for public distribution, should the trial prove successful.

Kennedy says he has always wanted to help others. He joined the U.S. Army to serve his country and volunteered to become a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division. He also volunteered for combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He said volunteering to take part in the trial was a no-brainer. He says he was taught in the military to face adversity head-on and he and other veterans see their participation in the trial as a way to continue their service in a time of adversity.

“We have to do what we can to help each other get through this. The minimum is not going to be sufficient to get us through this, so if you can do a little bit extra, do a little bit extra,” Kennedy said.

Veterans at the Cleveland VA are part of the largest vaccine trials currently underway. The Pfizer trial is being led by doctors Curtis Nonski, Frederico Perez, and Margaret Tipton and involves participants getting two shots about three weeks apart. It also means weeks of follow-up blood draws and examinations. The volunteers are young, old, different races and sexes and have different levels of health.

Their willingness to be part of this trial will provide crucial information that could save lives.

“The VA has a very unique population we are very diverse and the men and women of the military come from many different backgrounds and this is very important for vaccine administration to have a good population represented in the results.” Cleveland VA Infectious Disease Researcher Dr. Robert Bonomo said. “In the spirit that made them serve in the military, they came forward to help their co-veterans.”

The Cleveland VA is the only veteran’s hospital taking part in the Pfizer study.