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Accepted Paper:

COVID-19 vaccine trial participation as contested care for collective biologies  
Emily Wentzell (University of Iowa) Ana-Monica Racila (University of Iowa)

Paper short abstract:

Interviews with US COVID-19 vaccine trial participants reveal efforts to provide collective care through individual biological experience. Participants hoped to protect “collective biologies” against harms of individualist pandemic response; family feared adverse effects might hamper caregiving.

Paper long abstract:

This paper examines US COVID-19 vaccine trial participants’ use of their individual biologies to provide collective care. “Human subjects” often seek gains from research participation, for themselves and their groups. For example, author 1 previously found that Mexican spouses expected men’s sexual health research participation to positively affect groups ranging from the couple to the national populace. They understood these as “collective biologies;” groups whose members see themselves as bio-socially interrelated, and thus expect their individual, embodied actions to concretely affect other members’ health. Here we investigate how such efforts fare amid widespread refusal of collectivity.

We analyze 31 interviews with Iowan participants in the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine phase III trial. Iowa’s governor has promoted personal responsibility instead of public health measures, exemplifying the role of individualist culture in the failed US pandemic response. Amid unchecked community spread, interviewees hoped their trial participation could protect the health of specific collective biologies. These included families they hoped to protect by possibly reducing their own potential to infect them, and groups characterized by race/ethnicity, age, or sex for whom they hoped to ensure vaccine efficacy and model vaccine acceptance. While interviewees understood trial participation as care, they reported concerns from loved ones that adverse effects might disrupt participants’ daily caregiving duties, rendering participation irresponsible.

These findings show how individuals might use changes in their own biologies – in the form of experimental vaccination – to care for bio-social collectives amid bitter disagreement about the natures of collectivity, responsibility and care.

Panel Heal10b
Care, responsibility, and COVID-19 social restrictions II
  Session 1 Wednesday 31 March, 2021, -