The 45 volunteers for the experimental coronavirus vaccine trial that started Monday at Kaiser Permanente Washington Research Institute in Seattle come from all walks of life.
Along with a Microsoft engineer, and an operations manager, there’s Zach Wurtz, aka, “Butch T. Cougar.”
Wurtz, who went to Washington State University from around 2002 to 2007, spent several years as the school’s cougar mascot, pawing at football games and other events, including weddings.
In 2007, Wurtz, now 36 and a Seattle resident, was also the school’s student body president.
“I just wanted to help,” he says. “While I’m not a scientist, this is something I can do.”
And, well, given that gigs right now are a little scarce in his current profession as a political opposition tracker, the $1,100 for participating in the study won’t hurt.
Wurtz videotapes politicians at public events, hoping to catch them in a “gotcha” gaffe that can be used on Facebook or YouTube or commercials. He says he generally works for Democrats.
“This would be the busy season for me. There would be local Republican fundraisers and dinners,” he says. Then the coronavirus evaporated all those gigs as public events were shut down.
About a week ago, says Wurtz, he was on Facebook and saw that a friend had posted about Kaiser looking for volunteers for the study.
The vaccine, according to the institute’s website, does not contain the actual coronavirus and cannot cause infection.
Instead, it contains a genetic code that tells cells how to make protein found in the virus. That then is supposed to trigger an immune response that may help fight the invading virus.
Wurtz called the phone number on the Facebook page and says he was asked some brief questions.
Kaiser is still looking for healthy volunteers, ages 18 to 55. Over a 14-month period, they will have 11 in-person visits and four phone visits. Different volunteers will be injected in the upper arm.
Some of the study’s subjects will get higher dosages than others to test how strong the inoculations should be. Scientists will check for any side effects and draw blood samples to test if the vaccine is revving up the immune system, looking for encouraging clues like the NIH earlier found in vaccinated mice. Even if the research goes well, a vaccine would not be available for widespread use for 12 to 18 months, said Dr. Anthony Fauci of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
This vaccine candidate, code-named mRNA-1273, was developed by the NIH and Massachusetts-based biotechnology company Moderna.
Wurtz says he’s not a perfect physical specimen. At 6 feet and 225 pounds, “I’m what you’d call overweight.”
But obviously his blood tests turned out OK and he became a test subject.
On Wurtz’s Facebook page, his friends were proud of the former Butch T. Cougar.
Wrote one, “. . . thanks for taking one for the team and let’s hope it works amazingly!! Go Cougs!!”
Information from The Associated Press is included in this story.