Global Affairs

Coronavirus: Vaccine-trial participants pose for portraits

British photographer Fran Monks created portraits of Covid-19 vaccine-trial volunteers to celebrate their contribution to solving the coronavirus crisis.

image copyrightFran Monks
image captionVaccine trial participant Nicola in her home

“I became fascinated by individuals who were helping develop a vaccine and find a way out of the pandemic,” said Monks.

“I wanted to know what motivated people to step forward for the trials and how it felt to be part of this unprecedented, global scientific effort.”

Monks has been photographing people via Zoom video calls since the pandemic began, in 2020.

“It has created wonderful opportunities to make portraits of people all over the world, without having to leave my desk,” she says.

image copyrightFran Monks
image captionVaccine trial participant Mir in his home

The Oxford-based photographer used Twitter, Instagram and word-of-mouth to reach out to the public and find people who had been in vaccination trials.

Between December 2020 and January 2021, she held Zoom calls with her subjects and asked them to show her their living space, to help her compose and light the shot.

She then photographed her computer monitor.

Here are some of Monks’s portraits, with comments she gathered from the volunteers.

Lance, Atlanta, professor

image copyrightFran Monks

“Lance is on the Novavax trial and says he will happily be involved in more trials in the future.

“He understands the science and the risks and wants to help demonstrate to other African Americans that the vaccines are safe.

“He told me, ‘In the US there are some historical reasons why black people are hesitant about vaccines.

“‘But I want to play my part in overcoming that.'”

Sumit, London, civil servant

image copyrightFran Monks

“Sumit is on the Ensemble 2 Janssen trial, which is being carried out at St Thomas’ Hospital, in London.

“As a civil servant, and with a wife who works in the NHS, Sumit knows just how important vaccine development is for recovering from the pandemic.

“He was also concerned that British Asians have been particularly badly hit by the pandemic.

“And so, as a British Asian himself, he felt that volunteering was especially important.”

Maureen, Atlanta, pharmaceutical salesperson

image copyrightFran Monks

“As a baby, Maureen suffered from spinal meningitis and was in hospital for some time.

“She feels extremely grateful that there is now a meningitis vaccine, so other people do not have to experience what she and her family went through.

“Participating on the Novavax trial is one way that Maureen feels she can give back.”

Neil, London, radiographer

image copyrightFran Monks

“Neil is a radiographer in London and has been exposed to many people with Covid-19 over the past year.

“In addition, Neil’s husband is a heart-transplant recipient and is immunosuppressed.

“So Neil has been particularly aware of the risks of bringing the virus home.

“When he heard that Imperial College London were looking for participants for their phase-one safety trial, Neil saw it as an opportunity to get vaccinated sooner rather than later.”

Connie, Bakersfield, California, retired

image copyrightFran Monks

“Connie wanted to do her bit to help society recover from the pandemic.

“She has three daughters, six grandchildren, parents and in-laws and she says she’s doing it for all of them.

“She recognises that the virus has become a political issue in the US.

“But she wasn’t worried about that.

“This is not Connie’s first vaccine trial.

“In the 1980s, she took part in a trial for a valley-fever vaccine.”

Amber, Los Angeles, science journalist

image copyrightFran Monks

“In late August, Amber saw a Facebook advert looking for volunteers to take part in the Pfizer vaccine trial.

“After being stuck at home for months, with the virus still raging in the US, she felt this was one thing she could do to help.

“As a journalist, Amber reported on the technology of vaccines during the summer of 2020.

“So she is happy she can play her part.”

Sean, Birmingham, database administrator and part-time student

image copyrightFran Monks

“Sean decided to take part in the vaccine trial as a positive way to respond to his anxiety about Covid-19.

“He had been reading a lot about the virus, and was even having nightmares, when he saw an advert for Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine-trial participants on Twitter.

“Sean signed up straight away.

“He told me, ‘I’m a type 2 diabetic and overweight.

“‘So I fall into a risk category, which is one of the reasons they were quite happy about having me on the trial.'”

Andrew, London, retired

image copyrightFran Monks

“Andrew feels that the younger generation have suffered so much as a result of this pandemic and that enrolling on the Novavax vaccine trial was the least he could do.

“His son was already on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine trial.

“And this gave Andrew a bit of a nudge to get involved.

“The researchers were particularly keen on working with the over-60s.

“And so the retired banker signed up.”

Guillaume, Oxford, academic researcher

image copyrightFran Monks

“Guillaume is French and is a postdoc researcher at Oxford University.

“Even though his work involves assessing the effectiveness of cancer drugs, this is the first time that Guillaume has participated in a medical trial himself.

“He is on the Novavax vaccine trial.

“Guillaume says he has been surprised at how positively people have responded to him being on the trial.

“His family are really proud and keep telling everyone what he is doing.

“‘People have been telling me I am a hero,’ he says.”

Kate, Oxford, community-centre coordinator and caregiver

image copyrightFran Monks

“Kate is on the Novavax vaccine trial.

“She once had a problem with alcohol and drug misuse.

And she sees taking part in the trial as an opportunity to do something for the benefit of society.

“Kate remembers that people still caught polio when she was a child and appreciates the role of vaccines in eradicating that disease.”

Laura, Los Angeles, headhunter

image copyrightFran Monks

“Laura lives in Los Angeles, which has been hit hard by the virus.

“And she knows of people who have been badly affected.

“A 17-year-old boy at her daughter’s school lost his mother, father and grandmother to the virus.

“Another child at her son’s school has lost his father.

“Hearing stories like this made Laura determined to do something.

“And so when she saw an item on the news looking for volunteers for the vaccine trials, she and her husband decided to sign up.”

Photos and interviews by Fran Monks.

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