How to volunteer for a coronavirus vaccine trial

Eligibility, risks, benefits and other issues to consider before volunteering.

Amanda Capritto
4 min read

Joining a vaccine trial will help scientists find out if potential vaccinations work. 

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If you're actively searching for a way to constructively contribute to the resolution of the coronavirus pandemic, you could consider volunteering for a coronavirus vaccine study. By taking part in a vaccine trial, you'd be a major player in moving science forward so the world can finally get a grip on the virus that's been overloading hospitals, taking lives and forcing lockdowns for more than six months now. 

With more than 10 million cases worldwide and more than half a million deaths, it's clear that we need an intervention. If you want to be one of the first to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, now's your chance: Find out who can join, how to join and where to join. 

What is a vaccine study? 

A vaccine study is a type of clinical trial that looks at the effectiveness of potential vaccinations for infectious diseases. These studies are necessary to determine whether a vaccine can prevent people from becoming sick with diseases, without causing serious side effects. 

Every single vaccination goes through a rigorous process that involves multiple stages. In some cases, such as in the case of the novel coronavirus, national health agencies -- usually the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institutes of Health and Food and Drug Administration -- will agree to expedite the process due to an emergency. 

COVID-19 is no doubt an emergency, and the vaccine development process is being accelerated through Operation Warp Speed, which aims to make 300 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine available by January 2021.

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Current coronavirus vaccine studies

More than 130,000 people have signed up to volunteer for a COVID-19 vaccine study less than two weeks after the National Institutes of Health launched its COVID-19 Prevention Network (CoVPN), a network supporting several clinical studies that will test "a variety of investigational vaccines." 

Four major studies are planned for summer and fall 2020, the first of which is expected to test the Moderna vaccination, the first vaccine to enter human trials earlier this year. The other trial vaccines come from AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax.

All CoVPN studies are Phase 3 trials, which means it's already clear that the vaccinations don't cause immediate adverse effects, and the final goal is to find out if the vaccination can prevent people from contracting the coronavirus or minimize the severity. 


Joining a vaccine trial comes with inherent risks, which you'll be informed of before participation. 

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Who should join a coronavirus vaccine study? 

The CoVPN is looking for adults (18 and older) of all races, ethnicities, sexes and gender identities to join studies. 

You don't have to be in perfect health, either: Researchers want participants who are older and have underlying health conditions to participate, because those people are more likely to become sick with COVID-19 -- and the point of these trials is to find out if the vaccines can prevent people from becoming sick. 

Researchers are also interested in recruiting people of color, because it's clear that those communities have been hit harder by the novel coronavirus. For a vaccine to be successful, it has to be successful for all races.

Pregnant women are also eligible to participate in coronavirus vaccine studies. 

An important thing to remember is that these trials can be time-intensive for participants. For any CoVPN studies, you'll be required to visit a research site 10 to 12 times throughout your trial. You'll also have to keep track of how you feel in the hours and days after receiving your shot, and respond to follow-ups from research coordinators. If you can't make the time commitment, you may not want to sign up for a coronavirus vaccine trial.

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The risks of a vaccine study

You should also, of course, be aware of the potential risks of signing up for a vaccine trial. In the best case scenario, at least one of the investigational coronavirus vaccines is successful and none of them cause illness or adverse side effects. However, even Phase 3 vaccine trials come with the risks of developing illness and side effects. 

If you choose to participate in a study and are selected, you'll be given an informed consent form, which details all of the risks you incur by participating. Participation is totally voluntary, and if anything on the informed consent doesn't feel comfortable for you, you can opt out. You're also allowed to opt out at any time during a clinical trial, but it helps researchers when participants remain for the entire duration of trials. 

How to join a coronavirus vaccine study

You can join any of the government-sponsored coronavirus vaccine trials by going to the CoVPN website. There, you can begin the screening process to find out if you're eligible to participate in the clinical studies. 

The first step is a 10-minute survey that asks for your contact information, birthday, weight, height, and other demographic information. The survey also asks some personal and lifestyle questions, many of which aim to determine how likely you are to be exposed to the virus.

You could be rejected based on your answers to these questions. For example, if you work from home, never have visitors, wear a mask when you leave, and live alone, you might not be a good fit for a vaccine trial, because you don't have many opportunities to be exposed to the virus. Thus, the researchers wouldn't be able to tell if the vaccine protected you or if your lifestyle protected you. 

If researchers deem you a good fit for a vaccine trial, they'll reach out to you about participating in a study. Because there are several planned vaccine trials with many research sites across the US, you might be contacted within days, or it might take months. 

Testing sites for coronavirus vaccination trials 

According to the NIH, there will be more than 100 testing sites in the US, and your information will be sent to your nearest testing site, based on the zip code you provide during the initial questionnaire. If you're selected to participate in a vaccine trial, a research coordinator will contact you and provide more information about the testing site and trial process. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.