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Why WNY man decided to be part of COVID-19 vaccine study in Rochester

Posted at 6:03 AM, May 29, 2020

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Health experts say a vaccine to help develop immunity to COVID-19 will be key to helping us rebound from this pandemic. One Western New York man is doing his part when it comes to developing a vaccine that works.

Ray Grosswirth is 70-years-old and lives in Pittsford, near Rochester. He saw on social media that Rochester General Hospital was one of four sites across the country to test one potential vaccine, so he decided to reach out.

"Being in good health I feel it's the least I can do to help others who might not be so lucky if they were to contract the coronavirus," he said.

Ray will be part of a research study involving two companies, Pfizer and BioNTech. They're working together to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. He's one of 90 volunteers taking part in the study in Rochester.

"It's not a live virus, obviously. It will be a vaccine that over time will hopefully produce antibodies," he explained.

No one in Ray's life has been directly affected by COVID-19, but he says, he has an idea of what families of sick loved ones are going through. Two years ago Brenda, his wife of 25 years, came down with pneumonia, and got so sick she ended up on a ventilator.

"She had multiple organ failures. She was on a ventilator in an intensive care unit for about six weeks," he explained.

Thankfully, Brenda was able to eventually recover from the ordeal, but Ray says it's something that will never leave him. He says he feels for the loved ones of people who are sick with COVID-19.

"It was a horrible experience, but at least I was able to visit her every day," he said. "Unfortunately for a lot of people with family members experiencing terminal complications in hospitals - they're not allowed to visit them."

That's part of the reason why Ray decided to take part in the trial. He's already undergone an evaluation and has been approved for the study. Soon, he'll be tested for antibodies. If he doesn't have them, he'll move on to the first stage of the test, and be given either the vaccine or a placebo. Ray and all the participants will then have 11 follow-up visits. The hope is to see if and when they develope antibodies to COVID-19, and how long they stay in his system.

Ray is retired now, but he worked at Rochester's City Hall for 23 years where he was in charge of accounts payable. He also was ordained a married priest and performs marriage ceremonies for others. He was also the President of the Rochester Chamber Orchestra for years. It's clear that community service is important to him, and this is just another way he's giving back.

"If I can do anything at all to lead toward a better future with this virus, I certainly want to do that," he said.

If you'd like to learn more about the study taking place at Rochester General Hospital, click here.