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Vaccine trial participant: ‘I really want to get back to normal’

Teacher participates in vaccine trial

Kentwood Orchestra teacher Eric Hudson wants nothing more than to direct a classroom filled with students playing their instruments side by side, making music without another care in the world. 

For that reason, Hudson, who teaches at East Kentwood High School and Pinewood Middle School, is participating in the COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial by Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, one of many companies working on a vaccine. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ goal through Operation Warp Speed is to produce and deliver 300 million doses of safe and effective vaccines, with initial doses available by January 2021.

Orchestra teacher Eric Hudson is taking part in a COVID-19 vaccine trial (courtesy)

Hudson received the injection — which could have contained the vaccine or a placebo — on Nov. 9.

“This is super-selfish,” he said of his reason for participating in the two-year study. “I really just want to get back to normal. I want to have all my kids in front of me when I am teaching. I want to have concerts; I want to go to concerts; I want to have friends over … I want to go back to having all my normal creature comforts.”

Hudson, also a cellist in the Holland Symphony Orchestra, is an avid traveler who normally takes several international trips a year. He also loves to lead his students on performance tours. His Anything But Classical Orchestra students had planned to tour Dublin and the west coast of Ireland last spring break, performing five concerts along the way. The trip was, of course, cancelled due to the pandemic.

Superintendent Michael Zoerhoff said Hudson demonstrates the type of dedication he sees in Kentwood staff to make a difference during a difficult time.

“The move back and forth from in-person to remote learning has not been easy for anyone. Mr. Hudson, like many of our other teachers and students, has modelled a ‘growth mindset,’ shown ‘Kentwood grit’ and made it work to the best of their abilities.”

Before the pandemic, Anything But Classical orchestra members rehearse under teacher Eric Hudson’s direction

What the Trial Involves

Hudson looked into participating in a clinical trial after hearing from a friend who had done so in Colorado. He filled out an online form and was contacted about the Johnson & Johnson trial, which is taking place in various locations, including at Cherry Health in Grand Rapids. He is part of Phase 3 of the trial, which involves 60,000 people ages 18 and older from around the world. Hudson, 36, is in a group considered healthy and low-risk.

According to a press release from Cherry Health, the randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial is designed to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of a single vaccine dose of the Janssen investigational COVID-19 vaccine candidate, versus the placebo.

The Janssen vaccine was developed using technologies also used to develop and manufacture the company’s Ebola vaccine and create its Zika, RSV and HIV vaccine candidates, which are in Phase 2 or Phase 3 of clinical development.

To start the trial process, Hudson had a six-hour orientation day involving health screenings and a physical, at which he said he learned a lot about vaccine development. The research team looked extensively into participants’ health history and completed bloodwork. They also checked to see if participants were currently COVID-19 positive or had antibodies. 

As they went through the process, the group got smaller and smaller as candidates were weeded out. At the end of the day, Hudson was given the shot.

While he’s not sure if he received the placebo or vaccine, Hudson woke up the next morning with expected side effects of the vaccine, including achiness and chills. As part of the trial, he is required to write in an e-journal twice a week for the first two years and contact researchers if he has any virus symptoms.

Hudson said the experience has been well worth it. He feels for his students, who currently are working on solos to perform online since the district is remote through at least Dec. 8. He wants his classroom to again be a place to play and perform together, and where they can get the most out of musical education. 

For that, he’s happy to get injected.

“It will be nice to start seeing things come back, even slowly,” he said.

Orchestra teacher Eric Hudson looks forward to the day when concerts are big and joyful again (courtesy)

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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