Tour manager Mitchell Drosin has spent most of his life on the road, including over 30 years with legendary raspy-voiced country-folk singer-songwriter John Prine, who died last April from complications related to COVID-19. With his friend's passing and a desire to do his part for humanity, Mitchell decided to become a vaccine volunteer. He enrolled in a clinical trial for a vaccine against a disease that has infected more than 100 million people worldwide.
"My main motivation was I wanted to help the world get back to normal, and I thought it was a safe enough trial to do. Reading about it and not hearing about any deaths or anything like that, I said I'll be a guinea pig. And because I'm not working now owing to the collapse of live music shows, I definitely have the time.
"I started in the music business when I was 18, and I'm now 61, so I've been doing this for 43 years straight. I was with John Prine for over 30 years, and so I never had the time. Just like I could never join a sports league or anything because I would never know when I would be on the road or not on the road."
Mitchell and his wife signed up to participate in Johnson & Johnson's clinical trial for a single dose COVID vaccine, one of the most closely-watched shots against the novel coronavirus.
"The Johnson & Johnson people called me on December 1, and I was very excited to be a candidate. They said it would be a two-year trial, and the first visit we had was the longest. It took about three hours where they went over a lot of things, took blood, gave us a COVID test, showed us how to fill in the survey, and then gave us the vaccine.
“Of course, I don't know if I received the placebo or the actual vaccine, and now I visit every 70 days. So far, I've been twice, and they do bloodwork every time."
With no prior experience of clinical trial participation, Mitchell did some research and reading to discover more about what would be involved.
"I had read articles about clinical trials, so I wasn't nervous. Actually, the study had already started, and I got in late, and they were very honest with us. I think one person had a blood clot. But I wasn’t nervous about that. The only thing is I don't like needles. That's the only thing I'm nervous about when they're drawing blood. I don't look because I'm not very good in hospitals, but I'm getting better."
Vaccine or Placebo?
Volunteers like Mitchell and his wife are instrumental in helping researchers develop vaccines. To recognize them for their contribution, Johnson & Johnson has said that anyone given the placebo will receive a COVID-19 inoculation once the vaccine is ready.
"Hopefully, by March 19, which is the date of my next visit, I'll become unblinded because once the Johnson & Johnson vaccine becomes available, I then have the right to know if I received the placebo or the actual vaccine. This was the main concern for my wife and me.
"The good thing they said was if we were given the placebo and if the vaccine gets approved, we will be among the first to get the actual vaccine because they want us to continue with the trial. They still need to know what this vaccine does. We'll still be part of a two-year program, and they'll know we've received the vaccine." Mitchell has been a member of centrial.org since July of 2020.