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by Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance

Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance employee does his part in COVID-19 vaccine trial

James standing in front of a Carmel Marathon Weekend sign holding his medal up

Moderna COVID-19 vaccine test trials and how Kowalik is making a difference  


In March 2020, most of Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance went into quarantine mode. Various employees and agents continued working in the office and James Kowalik, commercial audit representative, was one of them. Kowalik has spent every workday in the company’s downtown Indianapolis office since the shutdown. 


Outside of the office, Kowalik is an avid runner competing in seven marathons, at least two half marathons and too many 5Ks to count. He also enjoys hiking and biking—all activities he was happy to continue during the pandemic.  


Last summer, Kowalik began hearing news about the COVID-19 vaccine trials—including studies conducted by Moderna. It didn’t take long to determine he wanted to be part of the solution, and Kowalik began to research clinical trials that he could be a part of.  


“In my mind, it was more of a question of why not? I had the opportunity to help out during a time where I felt like a lot of people were stuck at home pretty helpless and they couldn’t help out,” he said. “This seemed like a way that I could help people.”  


Kowalik continued, “I had learned about these trials that were taking place on the news, and I followed it from there. They had a website called where you could basically follow any one of these clinical trials that were going on.” 


Kowalik found hundreds of available clinical trials online but ended up choosing to participate in the Moderna trials. From there he had to find the closest one to him, which happened to be in Cincinnati, Ohio.   


After a few attempts to register with trials that either were full or unresponsive, he provided a basic questionnaire about his health and experience with COVID-19. 


“After the questionnaire they said, ‘Okay you can be a part of it, we think you would be a good candidate for this trial.’ I then had to make an appointment, show up and it went on from there.”  


The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine trial is a double-blind study that consisted of 30,000 participates throughout the U.S. that would receive two injections each. It was a 50/50 chance that you would either receive the Moderna vaccine or a placebo.  


Kowalik’s first appointment for the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine trial was on Aug. 5, 2020. The first appointment included completing necessary documentation. He began reading paperwork explaining the trials, disclaimers, legal agreements, standard medical documents and eye-opening requirements that took him through what the blind study would look like.  


Next, he received his first dose, unaware of whether it was the vaccine or placebo. However, he suspected he had received the vaccine.  


“When I received the first injection, I was suspicious of my own feeling, because you don’t know if you got the real thing or not. I noticed arm pain and fatigue and headache within an hour. My arm was swelling, you could see a little bit of a red spot,” he shared. “They had to hold you there for 30 minutes with nurses to make sure you didn’t go into anaphylactic shock.” 


Following the first injection, Kowalik had to record on a smartphone app how he felt each day for the following week. He had access to a 24/7 hotline if any issues or concerns arose. 


“I had to report in ‘the diary’ [smartphone app] if I had any feelings of fatigue, headache or soreness of muscles. They wanted to learn about those specific things,” said Kowalik.  


The next “jab” as Kowalik called it, was on Sept. 2, 2020, which also happened to be his birthday. After he received his second dose, he returned on Sept. 30, 2020, to have his blood drawn.  


His next appointment was in January 2021, and he was given the option to find out if he had received the actual vaccine or the placebo. He chose to hear which one he had been given, and he did in fact receive the vaccine in August.  


Kowalik reflected on the period of time when he didn’t know if he had received the vaccine or not, he explained that he felt slightly uneasy with how he should go about living life. He wanted to continue to be safe and not spread the virus, but he also wanted to live somewhat of a normal life.  


After finding out in January that he did receive the vaccine, Kowalik continues to pay attention to guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Indiana State Department of Health regarding how to remain safe and protect others.   


Kowalik is hopeful for the future  

James standing by a cactus on a mountain side

Kowalik just finished his seventh marathon and continues to live an active lifestyle. His parents are both vaccinated, as well as most of his family. He and his family have finally been able to feel safe eating at their favorite restaurants. Kowalik expressed that he felt comforted knowing he received the vaccine, but now that his family has been vaccinated things are finally feeling a bit more normal.  


Kowalik made the choice to do this selfless act to make his impact in fighting against COVID-19. Kowalik feels humbled that people want to highlight his good deeds; he simply saw it as an opportunity to help and encourages us all to help make an impact, too.  


Kowalik says, “Volunteering is so rewarding, no matter how you give back, it is worth it.”