Jim Dunlap, who readers may know as the retired MSUPD Police Chief, was walking to his car when he got a call telling him he might be able to participate in the trial for the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine.
Dunlap had expressed his interest in participating in a vaccine trial in early spring by filling out forms with federal agencies and Moderna. But he didn’t receive the call until July, when a representative from the trial asked if Dunlap was still interested and, if so, how soon could he make it to Henry Ford Health Services in Detroit for a screening.
Dunlap went almost immediately to complete the screening process, which he described as “not particularly onerous.” It involved lots of paperwork explaining the trials, learning what to do if he fell ill, and discussing possible liabilities. Two representatives were there to answer any questions.
Dunlap said he “must have passed the test” because he was accepted into the trial. He received the first injection in July and the second round four weeks later.
Following the first dose, Dunlap reported that his arm was sore at the injection site and had a slight rash on his arm that lasted for about a day. Dunlap woke up 12 hours after taking the second dose with chills and aches. He took Tylenol and eight hours later went on a long walk with his wife.
“If this is the only price you pay, it’s pretty minor,” Dunlap told ELi, especially if additional research confirms the preliminary results suggesting Moderna’s vaccine has a 94.5% efficacy rate.
Dunlap didn’t know if he would receive an actual vaccine or a placebo, but he is fairly confident that he received the vaccine given the side effects and the results of a Covid-19 antibody test. When going for routine bloodwork, he also had blood drawn for the antibody test. Several days later, a medical professional called him because his Covid-19 antibody levels were indicative of someone who suffered from a severe case of the illness. This suggests his body has developed protection, as hoped.
Nasal swab tests on Dunlap have come back negative, showing no active virus – again, a good sign. He was instructed to follow the same precautions as everyone else, such as mask wearing, hand washing, and physical distancing. He continues to take the precautions, but he and his wife do help take care of their grandkids.
As a trial participant, Dunlap will continue to be monitored for two years. He records updates in an app related to the trial and has access to a 24/7 hotline if any issues or concerns arise.
Dunlap told ELi that his family and friends thought he was crazy for participating, but he felt like he needed to do something to help in the public health crisis. He had heard about the proposed vaccine trials but didn’t think much about it at first. Then he read an article about them again as local schools and universities began to close in March. He saw his grandkids struggling with the transition.
Dunlap, who joined MSUPD in 1969 and was the department’s chief from 2002 to 2019, cited his experiences as a police officer and his retirement as motivating factors for participating.
As a police officer, he said, “you feel like you have an ability to intervene, do something.” After retiring, he felt “irritated” not doing anything, but he saw the vaccine trials as “probably the only thing that I can do at my age” to help during the pandemic.
Dunlap is also no stranger to vaccine trials. He admitted that maybe he was less afraid than the average person because his parents enrolled him in a polio vaccine trial as a child.
Participating in the Covid-19 trials made Dunlap “feel much more confident that everything was being done correctly. No one was cavalier.”
Dunlap reached out to ELi to share his story, hoping to alleviate fears about the vaccine, the development of which has become a topic of political debate this year.
“I hope people make the choice that is best for them and don’t worry it was some fly-by-night operation” he said.
“I don’t care what politicians say, I care what the healthcare people say,” said Dunlap, emphasizing that he was impressed with how “incredibly professional and precise” the team running the trials was.
“I got to see the incredible job people were doing,” said Dunlap, mentioning the initial greeters when he entered the building, the technicians drawing his blood, the physicians, and the primary investigators. “It was so well managed.”
Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail said that the county has long had plans for rapid vaccine distribution in a pandemic situation, but it is uncertain when exactly vaccines will become available here.
Her main concern with the vaccines is the limited allocation as they begin to roll out. Local hospitals will receive vaccines, but the priority will be to protect frontline healthcare workers with it.
She anticipates that the first allocation for the Health Department will include only 900 doses, and the department’s staff will be a priority. In the longer term, pharmacies will receive vaccines as they became accessible to the general public.
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