These volunteers rolled up their sleeves to help the search for a COVID-19 vaccine

The latest COVID-19 vaccine trial results are a bright spot in an otherwise dark time. And behind the promising numbers when it comes to efficacy, there are ordinary citizens who stepped in to help move the science forward.

Eduardo Rollox is one of them.

He’s been on his own during the pandemic but this one man may help save millions of lives. 

“I wanted to take part in something that is historic and revolutionary,” he said.

This past August, Rollox did just that when he volunteered for the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine trial at UIC. He said he was inspired by the polio pioneers of the 1950s.

“I saw a television interview with a gentleman who participated in the polio vaccine and he was encouraging people to participate in the SARS COVID vaccine,” he said. “His participation in that program led to a vaccine that saved a lot of lives.”

James Calabrese was just seven when he took part in the polio vaccine trial. He spoke to WGN News back in April.

“It seemed like an impossible time. It seemed like too steep a hill to climb … and suddenly there was hope,” he said. “I was convinced when I took that serum that things were going to be ok for everybody I was sure … How could you pass up a chance to stop a disease like that?”

Rollox feels the same. And for the 55-year-old from Panama, there’s an even deeper drive behind his volunteerism: Minorities are at higher risk for suffering complications from the virus.

“t’s really ecstatic and exciting to have something that would either prevent me from being a statistic or even become a statistic,” Rollox said.

Study participants don’t know if they received the experimental vaccine or a placebo injection — both groups are critical to the study — but Rollox said he has a hunch.

“If I did receive the vaccine, yes it does pack a punch,” he said. “I had headache, fever and chills for three days. It is really a powerful vaccine.”

And so are the phase three clinical trial results. The product from Moderna shows a nearly 95 percent efficacy rate, the same for Pfizer’s version.

Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr Anthony Fauci said  it’s the vaccine volunteers who are a critical factor in ending the pandemic.

“I have to tell you I’ve been dealing with development of vaccines for 36 years I would not have imagined in my wildest dreams 10 years ago that we could go from identification to a vaccine in less than a year. That would have seemed inconceivable,” he said. “But it was done and it was done well. Safety not sacrificed. … It’s so important to recognize the volunteers that actually put themselves on the line to be part of this extraordinary effort to end the epidemic in this country.” 

Bonnie Blue was the very first to roll up her sleeve in the Chicago arm of the Moderna trial.

“I live on the Southwest Side of Chicago where our numbers are going crazy,” she said. “Initially I was not going do it. It was not on my to do list. But I did see how the numbers were getting larger and I was not seeing the numbers simply as digits but as families who were going through this.” 

The 68-year-old great grandmother said she’s thrilled the vaccine is showing promise.

“I was so excited I cannot begin to tell you. It was like, ‘Yes!’” she said. “It humbles me. It makes me feel very blessed that I was in a position to actually step forward. I just feel very grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of a much grander issue.”

“Science, medicine was given a task and it met it spectacularly,” Rollox said. “So it’s something we should all be proud of and happy about.” 

Pfizer has already applied for emergency use authorization for its vaccine — and Moderna plans to do the same within days. If approval is granted by the FDA, both makers hope to begin distributing the vaccines to frontline workers and high-risk groups by the end of the year.