GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Eric Hudson is the orchestra teacher at East Kentwood High School and one of about 60,000 participants in Phase 3 of Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies' COVID-19 vaccine trial.
"I'm gonna be really honest, I was hoping so badly for the real vaccine," Hudson told us as he sat on his porch at his Kentwood home. "I was like, I know it's a 50-50 shot, and I don't know what I got."
Hudson won't know "what he got" for two years after he signed up to be a vaccine guinea pig at Cherry Health in Grand Rapids. That's when the trial will be over.
"I mean, it's like any other shot, right?" remarks Hudson. "Like, it just feels like a shot. You're like, 'I'm fine. Everything's fine. Nothing happened.'"
Some of the top people on Hudson's mind as that needle approached his arm were his students at East Kentwood.
"I just asked my students a couple days ago, like my attendance question was, 'How are you doing really? Like, tell me how you're actually doing,'" recounts Hudson. "I had a bunch of kids who were like, ‘This is tough. Like mentally, this is hard to do.'"
So in hopes of helping his student's mental health, Hudson is putting his physical health on the line.
His vaccine volunteer experience started with a long day of medical testing at Cherry Health.
"They warned me it's going to be a 6-1/2 hour day, which I was blown away by that," says Hudson. "I was like, 'Wow, you guys are thorough!'"
Those long hours led to getting either a vaccine or a placebo shot. Two weeks later, Hudson is feeling healthy at home, tasked only with logging his symptoms on an app for the next two years. The logging is easy, and unless you have COVID-19 symptoms, it doesn't take more than a minute. "It’s the easiest thing," says Hudson.
Dr. Richard Nettles, vice president of medical affairs at Janssen Infectious Diseases, says this easy step, by participants with the vaccine and without, will show if the vaccine works.
"Really, the intent of doing it in a randomized blinded way, and enrolling a lot of individuals, is that you control for all the different factors," notes Dr. Nettles. "So at the end of the day the exposure between the two groups is the same, and the characteristics of the two groups are the same. So if you see a lot of the infections happening in the placebo arm and not in the active arm, that's really your signal that the vaccine might be working."
Hudson certainly hopes it works. For the sake of his students, for the sake of his family, for the sake of that one thing we all miss so much: normalcy.
"I want to get back to normal," says Hudson. "I want to travel again. I want to do things that I used to do. And I feel like this is probably our best bet to getting that done."