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We can turn the tide of COVID-19 by getting vaccinated

My experience in the vaccine trial tells me we can turn the tide of this pandemic by getting vaccinated.

After 16 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are finally turning the corner. The main reason is that more and more people are receiving their COVID-19 vaccines and inoculating themselves against this virus that has been responsible for killing over 570,000 Americans.

All across the Cleveland area, at hospitals, pharmacies, community health centers and other community sites, more and more Ohioans are protecting themselves and their families and their neighbors by getting vaccinated.

And it’s working. Immunity is spreading. Already, with about 60% of adults receiving at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, daily new infections have fallen almost 90% from the peak in early January, and daily new deaths have dropped almost 80%. Guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is allowing fully vaccinated people to finally take off their face masks after a year of social distancing, and life is beginning to get back to normal.

We are finally seeing progress because the bipartisan COVID-19 relief bills we passed in Congress in 2020 provided tens of billions in funding for vaccine development and for an innovative approach to cut bureaucratic red tape around vaccine development called Operation Warp Speed. Researchers, scientists, and manufacturers worked overtime to develop vaccines in record speed, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agreed to expedite the testing, without cutting corners.

Last year, as these vaccines were being developed, I learned that an Ohio company called CTI Clinical Trial and Consulting Services was involved in trials to find out whether the vaccines were working. I contacted the company to thank them for their work and to ask them how I could help in the effort. They asked that Congress continue to fund Operation Warp Speed, which they said was beginning to work well, but they also asked if I could help encourage more people to join their trials.

They said the more people willing to enter a trial and test the new vaccine, the more data they would have, and the sooner they would be able to seek FDA approval.

After thinking about it, I decided the best way I could help convince people was to join a trial myself, putting myself in the position of taking the risk of getting a vaccine still in testing. I wanted to be able to tell my constituents why I was doing it, and encourage them to do it, too.

So, in the fall of 2020, I joined an ongoing CTI trial for the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine. It was a double-blind trial, which meant that neither I nor the person giving me the shot knew whether I had received a vaccine or a placebo. About half of the trial participants get the vaccine and half get the placebo, and CTI tracks how you do. The idea is that those who get the placebo will experience about the average infection rate in the community, while those who get the vaccine would be much better protected, assuming the vaccine is effective. Tens of thousands of participants are needed to get meaningful results.

After the initial shot, I was required to check in with CTI every day for a week or so, and keep a diary, including reporting on my temperature and how I was feeling. I then went to a diary report twice a week, which I still do. I was fortunate to have no side effects, so I actually thought I must have been given the placebo. Months later, I found out that I had actually received the vaccine.

The approval process for the J&J vaccine by the FDA took longer than expected, but I am glad they took their time to be sure it was safe. At the end of the approval process, it was determined that the J&J vaccine was extremely effective against the virus.

The vaccine has now been administered more than 9 million times, with no serious side effects in the vast majority of cases. I believe we should continue to rely on it, along with the FDA-approved Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

With these three vaccines now approved, I encourage all Ohioans to be vaccinated if you have not already done so. Together, we can turn the tide of this pandemic and help everyone return to a more normal daily life with confidence.

Sen. Rob Portman, of the Cincinnati area, is the junior senator from Ohio. He has announced that he will not be seeking a third term in the U.S. Senate next year.

Rob Portman is Ohio’s junior senator. The Republican hails from the Cincinnati area.

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