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Volunteer for coronavirus research at VA

As one of the nation’s leaders in health research, we’re working to find ways to prevent and treat the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Read below to find out how you can be part of these efforts and what to expect if you volunteer.

How can I volunteer?

You can sign up for our research volunteer list. If we think you may be eligible to be a participant in one of our research studies, we’ll contact you to tell you more about it. Then you can decide if you want to join.

To volunteer, you:

  • Must be at least 18 years old
  • Don’t have to be a Veteran
  • Don’t have to be enrolled in VA health care 

Sign up for our volunteer list

Note: Your decision to join a study or not won’t affect your VA health care or any of your VA benefits or services in any way.

What are the benefits of volunteering?

As a research study participant, you can help us:

  • Better understand how COVID-19 affects different people
  • Find ways to prevent and treat COVID-19 for you, your family, and your community
  • Make sure vaccines and treatments are safe and effective in people of all ages, genders, races, and ethnicities

We especially want to make sure that any vaccines or treatments work in the people most affected by COVID-19. Data shows this includes people over age 65, people with chronic (long-term) health conditions, and Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous people.

As a research participant, you may also:

  • Learn more about your own health
  • Receive more regular health check-ins as part of your study visits
  • Get early access to a new vaccine or treatment

No one can predict the exact outcome of a research study. You may or may not see a direct benefit to your health. But your participation does matter.

What VA studies might I be eligible to participate in?

We're continuing to add health research studies to our efforts. These may include different types of studies, such as those that test new COVID-19 vaccines or treatments as well as those that focus on better understanding how COVID-19 affects people.

Will I get paid for joining a study or compensated for travel costs?

This will depend on the study. For all studies, you won't have to pay for any  visits, tests, or care related to the study. Some studies may also compensate you for travel costs (like gas or bus fare) to and from study visits. Some studies may also pay you for the time you spend traveling or at study visits.

If we contact you about a study, we'll explain the details about compensation for that specific study. 

More about participating in VA research

  • The first thing you should know is that signing up for our volunteer list doesn’t mean you’re committing to join a research study. It just means you want to learn more. Here’s what to expect if you decide to sign up, and if we think you may be eligible for a specific study.

    Before the study

    If we contact you about a study, we’ll give you written information about the study. We’ll also talk with you about all of the details of the study, including possible risks, to help you decide whether you want to join. This process is called informed consent.

    At this time, you'll want to ask questions like:

    • Who's sponsoring this study?
    • Who reviewed or approved this study? 
    • What could happen to my health, good or bad, if I take part in this study?

    Get more questions to ask in our Volunteering in Research brochure.

    Download the Volunteering in Research brochure (PDF) 

    If you decide you want to join the study, our researchers will determine if you’re eligible to participate.

    As part of this, you may:

    • Answer questions about your medical history
    • Get a physical exam
    • Get a blood test

    During the study

    If you’re eligible, you can then join the study. Remember, it’s always your choice and you can decide to leave a study at any time.

    During the study, we may ask you to:

    • Go to a VA health facility near you. For most studies, you’ll need to go for 10 or more visits over 1 to 2 years.
    • Get injections or infusions. You may get the study product we’re researching, or you may get a placebo. A placebo is a liquid with no active ingredients.
    • Keep track of how you feel. We’ll likely ask you to write down how you feel for about a week after you get each injection or infusion. The study staff will also contact you to ask how you’re feeling.

    Note: We won’t expose you to the virus that causes COVID-19 as part of any studies. If you do get sick during the study, we’ll work with you to make sure you get the care you need.

    After the study

    When the study is complete, we may ask you if we can contact you again for another study. You can say no if you’d prefer.

    We’ll also share the results of the study with you and your community. We won’t include your or any other participants’ name or any information that can be used to identify you.

  • No. Your decision to join a study or not won’t affect your VA health care or any of your VA benefits or services. 

    If you’re currently enrolled in VA health care

    Joining a study won’t affect your benefits or the care you receive in any way.

    Your research study visits will be separate from your regular health care appointments. If you get sick during the study, your VA health care team will care for you in the same way they would if you weren’t part of this research.

    If you’re a service member or Veteran and you’re not currently enrolled in VA health care

    Joining a study won’t affect your eligibility for VA health care in any way. 

    Find out if you may be eligible for VA health care

  • Yes. We'll provide all the health care you may need related to the study, even if you're not enrolled in VA health care. We won't charge you for this care.

  • Yes.

    Before the study starts

    The study staff will explain all you need to know to decide if you want to join the study. They’ll share information, including how the study will work, any possible risks, and how often you’ll need to visit the study location. They’ll also answer any questions you may have about the study.

    Once you have all the information about the study, you can decide if you want to join.

    During the study

    You can decide to leave the study at any time. We may ask you why you’ve decided to leave. But you don’t need to share your reason unless you want to.

  • If you have questions about our COVID-19 research volunteer list 

    Send us an email at research@va.gov.

    If you have questions about a specific study

    You can start with the points of contact for that study. These points of contact will be listed on your research study consent form.

    If you have more general questions, concerns, or complaints about VA research

    You can contact the VA Office of Research Protections, Policy, and Education by email at VHACOORDRegulatory@va.gov or by phone at 877-254-3130. If you have hearing loss, call TTY: 711.

What are the risks of participating in a health research study?

As part of our informed consent process, the study staff will discuss the possible risks of the specific study you’re considering before you agree to join.

Some common risks of participating in a health research study include:

  • Possible side effects. If you join a study that’s testing a new vaccine or treatment, you may experience side effects. Most side effects of vaccines are minor (like a sore arm, low fever, or muscle aches) and go away after 1 or 2 days. The study staff will monitor your health. If you do experience more severe side effects, they’ll work with you to make sure you get the care you need.
  • Not receiving the vaccine or treatment being tested. For example, in a trial to determine if a vaccine or treatment works, we need to compare 2 groups: a group that receives the vaccine or treatment we’re testing and a group that receives a placebo (a sterile liquid that doesn’t have any active ingredients). To make sure the results aren’t affected by knowing which group is which, neither you nor the researchers will know which group you’re in until after the study ends.
  • Inconvenience or disruption to your work or home schedule. You may need to spend time traveling to the VA health facility where research will take place.

More about how we'll protect your health, safety, and privacy 

  • No. That type of study design is known as a “challenge” study.

    For vaccine studies, we’ll use a design known as “randomized, blinded, placebo-controlled” studies.

    We’ll enroll people who are more likely to be exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19. We’ll then give some participants the vaccine we’re testing and some participants a placebo (a sterile liquid that doesn’t have any vaccine in it).

    Participants may be exposed to the virus in their everyday lives. So we’ll compare the 2 groups to determine if fewer people in the vaccine group get sick than in the placebo group. This is how we’ll know if the vaccine works.

  • Today, strong laws are in place in the U.S. to protect the safety of every person who joins a study.

    Safety measures for VA research include:

    • Ethical guidelines and training. We work to make sure that all members of our research teams act professionally at all times and follow the highest standards of quality and ethics in their work.
    • Institutional review boards (IRBs). Like most clinical research studies in the U.S., each VA study must go to an IRB before it can start. This is a group of people such as doctors, nurses, pharmacists, scientists, ethicists, and people from the local community who make sure that human research is well-planned and ethical. The IRB also reviews each study while it’s going on to make sure volunteers are protected.
    • VA research and development (R&D) committee. At VA, we also have an R&D committee that reviews the work and recommendations of the IRB and must also approve the research before our researchers can ask you to take part.
    • Informed consent. Before you join a study, the staff will explain all you need to know to decide if you want to join. They’ll share information, including how the study will work, any possible risks, and how often you’ll need to visit the study location. They’ll also answer any questions you may have about the study. You must then sign an “informed consent” document confirming that you received and understood this information before agreeing to join.
  • Like your medical record, we’ll keep the information in your research record confidential (or private).

    To protect your privacy, including your personal and health information, we:

    • Make sure that our researchers have access to only the specific information they need to complete each study. The institutional review board (IRB) determines what information is needed for each study. The IRB is a group of people such as doctors, nurses, pharmacists, scientists, ethicists, and people from the local community who make sure that human research is well-planned and ethical.
    • Store all information in our secure electronic systems, and encrypt all sensitive data
    • Require all VA employees who handle sensitive data to take required training and ongoing education courses on privacy and data security

What's health research, and why is it important?

Research is an organized process to gather information so we can better understand a specific problem. Health (or medical) research helps us answer questions about human health, like “How does COVID-19 affect different groups of people?” and “How can we find an effective vaccine?”

Health research can help us:

  • Learn more about health issues, risks, and illnesses
  • Test a vaccine, medication, or medical device to make sure it’s safe and effective
  • Find the best way to prevent or treat an illness
  • Learn what health care practices work best

The treatments and medicines that people rely on today come from health research.

Research studies we've conducted here at VA have contributed to health advances like:

  • The first successful liver transplant
  • The shingles vaccine
  • The nicotine patch to help people stop smoking
  • New treatments for Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and HIV/AIDS

More about how health research works

  • A research study participant is a person who volunteers to take part in a research study.

    For health research studies, this means that researchers will observe the participant to learn more about the specific question the study is trying to answer. Health research studies try to answer many different questions. For example, a study may try to answer a question about how different eating or exercising habits affect people’s health over time, or how different approaches to health care work compared to each other.

    Some studies try to answer the question of whether a new vaccine or treatment works and is safe for people of different ages, gender identities, races, and ethnicities. Research participants in these types of studies may receive the new vaccine or treatment, and researchers will monitor them closely to find out if it works as intended and if it has any side effects. Other participants may receive a placebo (a sterile liquid that doesn’t contain the real vaccine or treatment) so researchers can compare the groups of participants.

    In all health research studies, participants are volunteers who have the right to know all the details of the study and to leave the study at any time.

  • When research involves a group of people who are similar in age, gender, race, and ethnicity, the results for that group may not be true for everyone.

    Different people may:

    • Have different health needs or challenges
    • Need different dosages of a vaccine or treatment to get the intended result
    • Experience different side effects from a vaccine or treatment

    We’re working to find the best ways to prevent and treat COVID-19 in everyone. To do that, we must include people of all ages (over 18 years old), gender identities, races, and ethnicities in our research studies.

    We especially want to make sure that any vaccines or treatments work in the people most affected by COVID-19. Data shows this includes people over age 65, people with chronic (long-term) health conditions, and Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous people.

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