Colin Corbett Steps Up for COVID-19 Vaccine Trial

Colin Corbett is motivated by the belief that one person can help change the world. He became a teacher to positively impact young adults; he regularly donates blood to benefit the community. Now, he’s taken his commitment further by stepping up to defeat the coronavirus pandemic. 

The assistant professor of economics joined a slew of Peoria-area residents participating in a COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial run locally by Optimal Research and sponsored by Johnson & Johnson. His particular group of about 100 volunteers entered a Phase 1 trial, meaning the vaccine was previously tested on 10 humans or fewer. 

For this inoculation, scientists took an adenovirus — a different family of relatively common viruses — spliced out the genes that allow it to reproduce, then spliced in the genes that produce the COVID-19 spike protein.  

The virus is injected into a volunteer causing their cells to generate the COVID-19 spike protein, but it can’t continue to reproduce. 

The Portland, Ore., native received the initial injection Aug. 1 and a second shot at the end of September. Follow-up blood-draw appointments happen one, two and four weeks after the injections. Researchers monitor his health for various safety issues and analyze whether his body is producing the proper antibodies.

In addition to injection site tenderness that lasted about a week, considerable muscle soreness and malaise are the most significant side effects Corbett has experienced, occurring within 24 hours after each shot. 

“That was definitely unpleasant; I did not feel fine at that point,” he said. “It felt like I had a bad cold, but it went away pretty quickly. They explained that was the effect of my own body’s immune system attacking the manufactured COVID-19 spikes.” Over-the-counter pain medicine and rest alleviated the problem. 

The vaccine performed so well initially that Johnson & Johnson moved forward with their study.  

“Apparently, there was enough immunogenicity (positive immune response) in subjects from the first dose they thought it was worth continuing to a Phase 3 trial, which is testing for general effectiveness.” 

The company hoped to enroll up to 60,000 volunteers across three continents to analyze the vaccine further, but the trial was temporarily paused Oct. 12 due to an unexplained illness in a study participant. Pauses are an expected part of clinical studies, especially those involving a large population sample. Johnson & Johnson will review the related medical information before deciding to restart the trial. 

Corbett's loved ones have been incredibly supportive after learning about his participation — one friend even signed up for the trial after reading his story in the Peoria Journal Star.

Although appreciative of the kudos, he gave credit to “the heroes working at the research center ... There are a lot of people in Peoria who are doing this; I’m just the one who happened to reach out to the media and thus get all the attention.”

Wendy Vinglinsky

Some media in Bradley University's current print, video and online materials was acquired before the COVID-19 pandemic. Media acquired after the pandemic began was done so in compliance with Bradley's COVID-19 safety protocols at the time. The ongoing safety of our faculty, staff and students is of the utmost concern during these unprecedented times.