Gwen Martino, right, and Cindy Feigert are shown volunteering at Community Food Warehouse of the Shenango Valley, Sharon, where Martino is board president.

Gwen Martino, right, and Cindy Feigert are shown volunteering at Community Food Warehouse of the Shenango Valley, Sharon, where Martino is board president.

Gwen Martino was raised to serve others and community service has been part of her life, so participating in a clinical trial to determine the efficacy of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine falls in line with how she has lived her life.

Yet, the Brookfield woman admits she had a selfish reason for participating.

“My big thing is, I want my life back,” said the former Brookfield school board member.

She wants to go back to vacations and big family Christmas get-togethers and playing Mrs. Claus for nonprofit events and corporate parties.

“I started a card in my drawer of things I wanna do next Christmas to make it extra special,” Martino said. “I’m a huge Christmas fan.”

Martino, 71, saw a Facebook posting and inquired about the trial being run by Velocity Clinical Research, formerly known as Rapid Research. She went through a number of health screenings – including the highly uncomfortable COVID test – and signed pages of consent forms.

It is a double blind study, meaning some of the 30,000 participants were given the vaccine and some were given placebos. The participants were not told which one they received.

The retired teacher was administered her first shot July 29. She had headaches and pain, but wasn’t sure if that was the result of the injection or upper neck problems that she had been experiencing. After the second shot, Aug. 25, she had chills, a slight fever, body aches and headache.

“I’m almost positive I did have the vaccine because I had three days of flu-like symptoms,” Martino said. Since then, she has given blood twice and will have to do so three more times over the course of the 25-month study.

“There’s a little diary I have to fill out on my phone once a week, and basically it just asks me if I have had any health changes since the last time or if I have come into contact with anyone with COVID,”  said the president of the board of Community Food Warehouse of the Shenango Valley, Sharon. “Once a month, they call me and ask me some questions.”

She gets paid for participating, about $1,200 if she lasts through to the end. “I figure, I’ll just save it and, hopefully, by the time I’m done with this, we’ll be able to vacation,” Martino said.

The company has told her that she will be informed whether she received the vaccine or a placebo so she will know whether or not she has to be inoculated again.

(Update: Martino said Jan. 21 that she had been informed that she did receive the vaccine.)

“To me, it was a Christian thing and a patriotic thing to do,” Martino said of participating in the study. “We were never gonna get to a vaccine if there weren’t people that were willing to step up and be testers.”


Her experience living through the polio epidemic influenced her decision.

“That was very much a part of my growing up, how important the polio vaccine was, because I knew people that had polio and then afterwards there were very few cases,” Martino said. “In my family, you get your vaccines, so I’ve always gotten the flu vaccine and I get the pneumonia and I got the shingles. When this came along, I just felt like, ‘We need to get an end to this,’ and I really felt like it was something I needed to do.”

People have criticized her for “allowing the government to experiment on her,” and she has been forced to listen to any number of conspiracy theories. She just turns them aside.

“I feel like, you get to the end of your life and you haven’t made the world a better place, then what are you doing here?”