Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Person of the Week

Bill Richardson’s Love of Science Leads Him to Vaccine Trial


Bill Richardson, a lifelong East Haven resident, participated in Pfizer’s clinical trials to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Bill Richardson

Bill Richardson, a lifelong East Haven resident, participated in Pfizer’s clinical trials to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. (Photo courtesy of Bill Richardson )

Throughout the many years that Bill Richardson has called East Haven home, he has given back to the community in a number of ways. Bill has volunteered his time on various committees and commissions—including planning and zoning, housing, and civil service—and served as an elected official on the Board of Education and Town Council.

Bill was the leader of Boy Scout Troop 401 and serves as a Eucharistic minister at Our Lady of Pompeii Church. He has also volunteered with the Shoreline Greenway Trail, the Knights of Columbus, and the East Haven Rotary. He was recently appointed as a justice of the peace and a notary public.

Most recently, though, Bill not only gave back to the community, but to the world as a volunteer in Pfizer’s clinical trials to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, though that was not his entire motivation. As a self-proclaimed “huge science geek,” Bill has always been interested in how things work and how things are made.

“I really wanted to see how they did a vaccine study and this was a once in a lifetime thing to do,” says Bill. “Many people have said how brave I was for participating and I just never thought of it that way. It needed to be done. Now I realize I was part of something that helped the country and helped the world.”

Bill has loved science since he was young and remembers the excitement of the Apollo moon landing and having to be assigned special projects with his chemistry partner in high school as they continually received perfect scores.

Science also helped bring Bill and his wife, Joanne, together. During their senior year of high school, Bill had physics first period and Joanne had the class third period. They had a common study hall in between and would often review material. They have now been married for 41 years, raising their three children in the town where they grew up.

Bill studied to be an electrical engineer, working in the design field before transitioning to sales.

In August 2020, Bill saw an ad seeking participants in the vaccine trial. He submitted his name through a website, but didn’t hear back. The next week, he saw a similar announcement through his MyChart account and having always been curious about the vaccine trial process, he reached out. Soon after, Bill was pre-screened and accepted into the trial.

On Aug. 27 at 2 p.m., Bill went to Yale for his first visit, which was supposed to be three hours long. Bill reviewed his health history and answered questions and at 3:53 p.m., he got his first shot in the double-blind trial, meaning neither Bill nor the doctors knew if he received the vaccine or the placebo.

“Not even five minutes later, my wife called and said trees were falling down everywhere and her car was crushed,” says Bill. “The was the day the tornado hit East Haven and it literally came over my house. They wanted me to stay for an hour to check for side effects but after half hour, I made my way home.”

Though the yard was a mess and Joanne’s car was hit, their home didn’t sustain damage. Soon after Bill arrived home, he started getting chills, muscle aches, and a slight fever, but by the next day he “felt fine.”

Three weeks later, Bill returned for his second dose. He explained the side effects to the nurse and his suspicion that he received the actual vaccine. While the nurse agreed, no one could know for sure. Bill became more convinced as he had more serious side effects after the second shot, including a headache, aches and pains, and a fever, as well as noting that, as a diabetic, his blood sugar went up after each of the shots.

“Again, the next day I was fine, but I was 99 percent sure I had had the vaccine,” says Bill. “It felt kind of weird walking around knowing I was one of the only people in the world who was vaccinated.”

Despite assuming he had the vaccination, Bill and his wife continued to wear masks and remain socially distant. As part of the study, Bill gets antibody bloodwork every six months for two years, but as vaccine appointments began to open up, he knew he needed to confirm his suspicion.

“I really wanted to find out if I had the vaccine to know if I needed make an appointment as a 63-year-old with diabetes,” says Bill. “They just got back to me and said I did have the vaccine.”

In addition to participating in the vaccine trial and working, Bill has continued to stay involved with the community in other ways. Recently, most of Bill’s community efforts have been focused on the East Haven Rotary Club.

Bill has been a member of the Rotary for 15 years after being invited to join by Jack Leary. The club now meets via Zoom, but in January, the Rotary still hosted its annual Clothe the Children event at Kohl’s. The Rotary works with East Haven Public Schools to identify families in need and the children are then invited to Kohl’s to choose $125 worth of clothing.

“I’m glad we were able to make Clothe the Children happen this year. Kohl’s had us spread it out over three days so it would be socially distanced,” says Bill. “We had about 120 kids this year. It was a wonderful event. The Rotary may be a small group, but the things we do are amazing.”

Bill is looking forward to being able to resume in-person meetings and activities, not only with the Rotary, but in other aspects of his life as well. Bill is hoping he will be able to complete his trolley car conductor training course. He started the course last year, but half of his six-week class was canceled due to COVID.

“There were 12 of us training and we’re hoping that later in spring or summer, we can complete the class,” says Bill. “I had wanted to do the class for a number of years because the science geek in me loves trolley cars, but it’s also a great way to help the community.”

Bill is also looking forward to being able to spend more time with his family. He and Joanne have five grandchildren with another on the way who they haven’t been able to see much due to COVID.

Having so much time at home due to COVID, Bill and Joanne have spent more time watching movies. This has piqued Bill’s interest in the movie-making process.

“I’d love to be an extra in a movie and see how they shoot a movie,” says Bill. “I love seeing how things operate and that’s how I got involved in the study. I encourage everyone who can to get a COVID vaccine as soon as possible. I am proof that it is safe and effective.”

Jenn McCulloch is the Correspondent for Zip06. Email Jenn at .

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