Portman Column: Vaccines are a Key Tool in Our Fight against Coronavirus
Ohio, like the rest of the country, is currently experiencing an unprecedented surge in coronavirus cases. The number of new cases per day in Ohio has more than doubled over the last three weeks. In short, the trajectory is not good, with not just more cases, but more hospitalizations, more visits to the ICU, and sadly, more fatalities. We need to take every measure available to us to reverse this trend.
While masks, social distancing, and testing are important to slowing the spread of the virus, and new therapies can reduce the symptoms, I believe that the single most important thing we can do is to develop effective vaccines to provide immunity to the disease, allowing people to get back to a more normal life and return to work, churches and other places of worship, schools, restaurants, and just to be able to get together with family and friends. In addition to making these vaccine available, it is critical that people feel confident about getting the vaccination. The more people who receive the approved vaccine, the more effective it will be in stopping the virus from affecting all of us.
There are clinical trials for a number of potential COVID-19 vaccines currently ongoing around the country – these trials are critical for gathering information on how safe and effective the vaccines are in order to receive approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for public use. I recently spoke to CTI Clinical Trials and Consulting Services in Cincinnati, a global research company managing some of these trials, and they told me how important it is to have enough volunteers sign up and participate in the trial process.
For that reason, I decided to join one of CTI’s trials testing a potential vaccine being developed by Jannsen-Johnson & Johnson (J&J). Like other participants in the trial, I don’t know if I received the vaccine or a placebo. Anyone who volunteers is playing a small but important part in speeding up the process to have vaccines available by providing additional data to complete the trial. I hope that by participating in one of these trials I can help raise awareness about how important they are, and hopefully encourage more people to participate.
We must also do more to increase public confidence in the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines that are ultimately authorized by the FDA. I am concerned about the significant lack of trust among the public right now surrounding vaccines — according to the most recent Gallup survey, only 58 percent of Americans are willing to get a COVID-19 vaccine once it is authorized. If almost half of all people are unwilling to take a vaccine, we will not be able to turn the corner on this pandemic. Part of the reason that public trust has declined is because of the rhetoric from some public officials, casting doubt on vaccines solely because it may be approved by the Trump Administration’s FDA.
It is irresponsible to question this important vaccine approval process solely for political reasons. World-class scientists working overtime on these vaccines are taking extraordinary measures to ensure their safety and efficacy. In fact, the FDA has actually raised the standards for giving any COVID vaccine an Emergency Use Authorization that allows it to be quickly distributed. By going through this process and using my platform as a U.S. Senator, I hope we can get more people to once again trust in the scientists and researchers working around the clock to develop these vaccines.
Thanks to the bipartisan CARES Act that provided $27 billion in funds for COVID-19 vaccine development, the Trump Administration’s innovative approach to cut bureaucratic red tape with Operation Warp Speed, and most importantly, the commitment and ingenuity of our researchers and scientists and manufacturers, we are making progress in developing safe and effective vaccines. As we have seen in recent days, this incredible investment of time, energy, and resources into developing a vaccine for COVID-19 has paid off with some very promising potential candidates, with vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer demonstrating effectiveness rates close to 95 percent, almost triple the effectiveness of the typical annual flu vaccine. The J&J vaccine in the trial I’m participating in has also shown great promise.
We must do everything we can to ensure this promising development continues, which is why Congress must come together in a bipartisan fashion and pass targeted coronavirus legislation that ensure there is sufficient funding for vaccine research and distribution. Safe and effective vaccines are critical to keeping our businesses open, helping the unemployed get back to work, and stopping the harmful health consequences of the COVID-19 virus. I would encourage Ohioans who are interested to join me in participating in one of these vaccine trials. Together, we can and will be able to defeat this pandemic, the greatest health care challenge of our time.