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Austin woman joins COVID-19 vaccine trial after family member dies of virus

Rachel Elsberry lost a family member after he contracted COVID-19 at work. Now she's participating in a trial to find a vaccine.

AUSTIN, Texas — EMTs often don't get the same glory as firefighters or police officers, but every day, they put their lives on the line just the same. It's a risk and now a pain one family knows all too well. 

"My cousin's father was an EMT just south of Detroit, and he contracted COVID-19 or coronavirus sometime in March on the job, as did his EMT partner," said Austin resident Rachel Elsberry. "They were both hospitalized. They were both very, very sick, and his partner eventually got better."

But Paul Novicki did not. On April 9, he died. 

For Elsberry, watching her three cousins grieve the loss of their father is heartbreaking. But something one of them said sticks with her.

Credit: Zachary Novicki
Detroit area EMT Paul Novicki contracted COVID-19 on the job and died in April.

"One of the things that Zachary said was, 'You know, my dad went out there to save lives. And what you can do now to save lives is to stay home and to social distance,'" she said.

Elsberry decided she can do more. A little more than a year ago, she participated in a trial for a combination pertussis and rhinovirus vaccine through Benchmark Research and Moderna. When the company reached out about a COVID-19 vaccine trial, she said yes.


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"I very much believe in science. I very much believe in vaccines. And I know that the end for us in this saga of COVID-19 and coronavirus is to find a vaccine," Elsberry said. "I know how blessed I am to have good genetic health, but also to have good health choices available to me. So, I feel like I have something that I can give back. And this is really a small thing." 

Next week, she has a 50/50 chance of getting the real vaccine or she could get a placebo. She'll be compensated for her time and travel because her next year will be filled with doctor's visits, bloodwork and the thing she's most dreading: several COVID-19 tests.

"It's pretty aggressive," she said. "I mean, they stick that swab all the way up, almost touching your brain and they do it in both nostrils."

But for her, it's an act of love – love for her own family and love for the people of the world living in a pandemic.

Credit: Zachary Novicki
Paul Novicki pictured with his son, Zachary Novicki, when he was a baby. Photo courtesy of Zachary Novicki.

Click here for more information on how to participate in the COVID-19 vaccine trial.

WATCH: UT researchers developing COVID-19 vaccine 


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