First COVID-19 Vaccine Trial Volunteers in Michigan Receive Shots at Henry Ford Health System Today

August 05, 2020

DETROIT – The first COVID-19 vaccine trial volunteers in Michigan received their first shots today, in an effort to help find a safe, effective vaccine to the deadly coronavirus.

Henry Ford Health System is the first hospital system in Michigan to administer a COVID-19 vaccine study. The pioneering hospital system, a leading research institution in Michigan, is the only Phase 3 trial site for the Moderna mRNA-1273 Coronavirus Efficacy (COVE) vaccine study in the state.

“This is a historic moment,” said Dr. Marcus Zervos, Division Chief of Infectious Disease for Henry Ford Health System. “A vaccine is our best hope in the fight against COVID-19, and we’re glad to be a part of bringing this opportunity to the Midwest.”

One of the first volunteers was Ashley Wilson, 24, of Taylor, who worked across from the World Trade Center in March, employed in public policy in Manhattan after graduating from the University of Michigan in 2018. 

Then COVID-19 hit. 

“We thought we’d be back to work in two weeks,” said Ashley, who was told a few days later that the office would be shut down for months. She stuck it out until her lease was up in June, determined she wouldn’t suddenly flee like so many her age. 

“It was literal destruction: friends of coworkers dying, family members of coworkers dying, kids my age dying,” she said. “It was very evident in New York City how dangerous this virus is and how dangerous normal, everyday things can be, like going to the grocery store.”

Ashley moved back home to metro Detroit, to her parents’ home in Taylor, where they had moved after Ashley grew up in Southwest Detroit. 

She became one of the first people to participate in the Moderna COVE Vaccine Study on Aug. 5, 2020, the first day COVID-19 vaccine study shots were administered in the state of Michigan. Henry Ford Health System is the only site between Cleveland and Chicago for the vaccine study, one of 89 sites in the United States. Henry Ford is enrolling volunteers into this randomized double-blind study of whether a two-dose vaccine prevents COVID-19 infection in those exposed to the coronavirus.

Sites across the United States are working competitively to enroll a total of 30,000 volunteers to participate in the Moderna vaccine study. The study will close to volunteers once 30,000 people are enrolled, so signing up at quickly is crucial. At this time, Michigan sites for enrollment are located in Detroit at the Henry Ford Hospital Emergency Department (with a separate entrance), Henry Ford’s headquarters at 1 Ford Place in Midtown Detroit and at the HAP building (home to the Employee Health clinic) across the street from the main hospital.

“I feel like young people are not take responsibility for this pandemic like other age groups,” Wilson said, adding that she feels lucky that she has the privilege of being able to work from home and socially distance in a safe spot. She said she volunteered for the Moderna vaccine study to help determine if the vaccine is safe and effective for people like her mother, who works in a nursing home, and her grandfather, who is in his 90s. 

“This feels like a way of contributing and using that privilege for good,” she said.

Victor McFadden, 64, of Detroit, retired a few months ago and was set to move to Myrtle Beach. That is, he was headed there until COVID-19 halted his plans.

“I was going to paradise – and it was taken away,” said Victor, who had worked in Environmental Services at Henry Ford Hospital, sharing photos him on the beach and a crisp gray colonial waiting for him in South Carolina. “I had everything packed, ready to go, then this happened. And It’s devastated the whole world. And if I can jumpstart it to try to find some type of way get this over with, I’m all willing to do it."

Since COVID-19 hit, Victor has been staying home alone and making only necessary trips out to stay safe.

“Unfortunately, I’m the only one of my family here, and I’m extra careful because I don’t want to be lost, if something happens,” he said. “So whatever it takes. I’ve been quarantined in the house for four months now. I go out every once in a while. I don’t let anyone over. I try to keep less contact with people because I know what I’m doing; it’s everybody else I have to worry about.”

He decided to sign up for the vaccine to help others, particularly nurses like his sister.

“Being here doing this may go down in history; it’s not the way I really wanted to do it,” he said. But (I’ll do) whatever it takes to try to get this virus under control. I feel for the nurses; they are the heroes, to go to work every day and put up with this. My sister is a nurse in South Carolina; they’re troopers. I give them all the respect in the world.”

The study’s first two phases involving more than 600 participants found the vaccine to be safe. Phase 2 showed the vaccine helped produce antibodies; Phase 3 will determine whether that helps protect against COVID-19.

Typical vaccines for viruses are made from a weakened or inactive virus, but the mRNA-1273 study vaccine is not made from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It is made from messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA), a genetic code that tells cells how to make protein. In this case, the protein is a small part of the virus that is thought to help the body’s immune system make antibodies to fight the virus. However, people may still become infected with SARS-CoV-2 in their everyday activities, despite receiving the study’s two shots. \

All study participants will have a 50% chance of receiving the study vaccine or placebo, a sterile saline solution that does not contain any active vaccine. Anyone age 18 or older who is not immune-compromised or pregnant or planning to become pregnant can volunteer for the study, as long as they have not had COVID-19 or another vaccine or treatment.

Researchers are particularly interested in recruiting:

  • Those at high risk of COVID-19 infection, defined as adults whose locations or circumstances put them at greater risk of exposure to the virus responsible for COVID-19,
  • Adults who are at high risk for severe COVID-19 based on age of 65 years or older
  • Adults who are at high risk due to pre-existing medical conditions that are stable at the time of screening.

Those who are interested in the study can visit to learn more or to volunteer.

About Henry Ford Health System:
Under the leadership of President and CEO Wright L. Lassiter, III, Henry Ford Health System is a $6 billion integrated health system comprised of six hospitals, a health plan, and 250+ sites including medical centers, walk-in and urgent care clinics, pharmacy, eye care facilities and other healthcare retail. Established in 1915 by auto industry pioneer Henry Ford, the health system now has 32,000 employees and remains home to the 1,900-member Henry Ford Medical Group, one of the nation’s oldest physician groups. An additional 2,200 physicians are also affiliated with the health system through the Henry Ford Physician Network. An active participant in medical education and training, the health system has trained nearly 40% of physicians currently practicing in the state and also provides education and training for other health professionals including nurses, pharmacists, radiology and respiratory technicians.

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