Volunteer for a Vaccine Trial? It’s a “No-Brainer” for Milton Rosa-Ortiz

Headshot of Milton Rosa Ortiz

Posted December 31, 2020

As researchers across the world race to develop and distribute vaccines to stop the spread of COVID-19, Vermonters and New Yorkers have offered their arms to science, volunteering to participate in the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine trial at The Larner College of Medicine Vaccine Testing Center at The University of Vermont and UVM Medical Center.

These volunteers come from diverse backgrounds and offer varying reasons for becoming involved. A unifying theme, though, is a desire to be part of something bigger than themselves.

Milton Rosa-Ortiz, 53, Burlington, VT 

While in his 30s, Milton Rosa-Ortiz’s wandering lifestyle led him on adventures through Hungary, Italy and Mexico. But it was in New York City, after living through 9/11, that he realized it was time to drop anchor and do something different, somewhere different. 

A friend suggested he try nursing, which, according to Ortiz, “wasn’t even on my radar.” Over the years he had earned a degree in architecture and pursued art on the side. But remembering his years spent in and out of hospitals as a child in Puerto Rico, Ortiz was intrigued. He volunteered at a local hospital, and several years later, graduated with a nursing degree from SUNY Downstate.

But Ortiz’s artwork still beckoned. It was on a visit to Burlington for an art commission that he suddenly felt drawn to the beauty of the mountains and the lake. People were kind. “I’m coming to work for you,” he said when he called UVM Medical Center’s Human Resources department. “How will we make that happen?”

Six months later, he arrived for his first shift on Baird 4. 

At UVM Medical Center, Milton cares for patients struggling with severe illness, many facing the end of life. It’s a special passion for him, and he cherishes the privilege of helping them navigate difficult decisions and determine their goals of care. 

When the news broke that UVM Medical Center would be conducting a clinical trial of a COVID-19 vaccine, Milton knew that as an older Latino and nurse, he had much to offer as a candidate.

On Nov. 10, he rolled up his sleeve for his first vaccination. He received a second vaccine booster Dec. 9.

“Enrolling in this study was a no-brainer,” he says. “I see it as a really good opportunity for me to give back.” 

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