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Fort Smith man among first in the world to get COVID-19 vaccine as participant in Moderna trial

Rod Gammill was hesitant about the vaccine but decided to volunteer for the trial, becoming one of the first in the world to be vaccinated against the virus.

FORT SMITH, Ark. — The decision to get a COVID-19 vaccine - or not - is a very personal one. And for many, the right choice isn’t immediately clear.

58-year-old Rod Gammill works in management for Walmart and is a lifelong resident of Fort Smith, Arkansas. He was one of the first – in the world – to get vaccinated. As COVID-19 ramped up last summer, drug makers began looking for volunteers to participate in human vaccine trials.

“First thought, I don’t see how anybody would want to do that," said Gammill. "We don’t know anything about it."

Gammill says he was very hesitant at first, but something compelled him to step up. 

“I’m a very conservative person. I was one of the last people you would ever think would do something like this," he said. "What changed my mind? I’m not really sure." 

Despite that unknown, Gammill called up Baptist Health Center for Clinical Research in Little Rock and volunteered for the Moderna trial. 

“I didn’t tell my wife at first. I didn’t tell any of my family members," Gammill said. "Once I told my wife, she was very worried about it. She didn’t want me to do it at first."

But he did, getting his first shot on August 26, 2020. He is one of 30,000 participants in the 25-month-long double-blind study.

“I wasn’t looking for any gratitude. I was looking to help others be a little bit more comfortable taking it,” Gammill said.

He found out in January 2021 he had been given the actual vaccine, not a placebo, just shortly after losing a loved one to COVID-19. 

It’s tough to lose someone, but to lose someone like that and not be able to go see them, that’s the toughest thing,” Gammill said.

Gammill says he was fairly certain he got the real vaccine before finding out because of a red mark and lump on his arm after the shot that led to some soreness, side effects he says were worth it. 

“Don’t be afraid of it. Some people do get sick with it, but it’s usually just a couple of days,” Gammill said. 

And for anyone on the fence about whether getting a vaccine is right for them, he has this to say: 

“Make it an individual decision, but it’s perfectly safe. Don’t think twice about it if you’re leaning toward getting the vaccine. It’s great." 

Gammill says his whole family has gotten vaccinated except his youngest daughter, who hasn’t decided yet. He and his wife chose to let each daughter decide, and his 18-year-old is worried about long-term effects. But he believes she will end up choosing to get vaccinated before a family trip this summer.

Gammill heads back to Little Rock in October 2021 for his next vaccine trial follow-up.

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