Frontline health care workers rightfully have been praised during the COVID-19 pandemic for their critical service, heroic resilience and true grit. Ashley Vanorny, a student in DMU’s master of health care administration program and a member of the Cedar Rapids, IA, City Council, is a pandemic health care hero in a different way: She is one of 270 volunteers enrolled in the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine trial through the University of Iowa and among more than 40,000 people who have participated in international clinical trial testing.
“This happened because once upon a time I was a psychology major at the University of Iowa, and I remember how hard it was to recruit patients for a study I was doing,” she says. “It was important to get subjects to test the COVID-19 vaccine. It was a good and necessary risk to take.”
In a world that has lost more than three million people to the coronavirus, the vaccine trial indeed was necessary – but it wasn’t Ashley’s first. She has participated in several scientific studies over the years, including a Chikungunya vaccine trial that wrapped up in December 2019.
“I’m fascinated by how the trial process works, and I understand what it takes to advance science,” she says.
The University of Iowa trial required participants to receive two vaccine doses 28 days apart, with half of the participants receiving a placebo injection. Ashley received her first dose on Aug. 6, 2020, and learned in December she’d received the Pfizer vaccine, which she suspected after experiencing a mild headache, chills and a low fever caused by her second dose.
“I am happy that I am healthy enough to qualify for the number of studies I have,” she wrote on her Facebook page last year. “Thank you to all the other volunteers going through this process with me.”
Ashley believes in giving back to her community as a city council member, member of the Linn County, IA, Foster Review Board, executive board member of the Iowa League of Cities and a member of the National League of Cities Community and Economic Development Federal Advocacy Committee. The pandemic solidified her desire to serve as well as her belief in the importance of “clear, succinct and transparent messaging” in health care and public health. As a registration manager in the emergency department at Mercy Cedar Rapids during the first half of the pandemic, she and her colleagues had discussions about the “basics,” such as keeping hand sanitizer stations in the same accessible places in the department to maximize staff members’ use.
“I was frustrated by various messages coming from the CDC, public health departments and politicians—it was hard to keep experts, let alone the public, current on rapidly emerging facts. I want people to very intentionally consider getting vaccinated and to encourage family and friends by helping them navigate what can be a cumbersome process,” she says. “We know the more complicated we make the process for patients, the more difficult it is for them to get vaccinated.”
She also encourages others to consider getting involved in clinical trials. One avenue is through ResearchMatch, a free and secure online tool created by academic institutions across the country that seek volunteers to participate in their studies toward a mission of improving health and health care.
“Research is happening all the time. As health care leaders, we should understand where research is happening and participate in it as much as possible,” she says. “You will be well supported, and it is so worthwhile.”