By Tarryn Mento
Wednesday, December 2, 2020

It takes a lot of paperwork to be a human test subject. COVID-19 vaccine trial volunteer Christian Ramers filled out multiple forms before his pen ran dry.

He agreed to allowing his blood to be used for further COVID-19 study, authorized sharing of his health information and answered confidential questions from a clinician that also had her scribbling down answers.

Joining a COVID-19 vaccine study is lengthy and invasive and the personal gain is uncertain. While participants may enroll because of altruism, trials are completely voluntary and double blind to protect the study’s integrity — neither participants nor researchers know who receives the experimental vaccine over a placebo.

Experts are concerned that volunteers will drop out of ongoing trials if the FDA grants emergency use approval to a vaccine, which could be later this month. They are worried participants may instead seek the approved immunization and leave researchers without crucial follow-up data required to produce multiple vaccines the country needs.

Ramers, a community clinic physician and member of San Diego County’s clinical vaccine advisory group, said an emergency approved tool is urgently needed, but continuing other studies is also crucial.

“We’re in a situation where we want to get something approved as quickly as possible, and yet we also need all the information we can get from these,” he said while sitting in the clinic where he received an injection for the Janssen Pharmaceuticals trial.

Ramers said he joined the trial to fight against the virus that’s sickening his patients at Family Health Centers of San Diego, but also to combat vaccine skepticism among communities of color.

“There’s a lot of suspicion and fear, and that’s based in historical injustices, really, from biomedical research, and so I wanted to really take a proactive stance against that,” said Ramers, who is Cuban American.

But he left the door open for seeking that first emergency approved vaccine — a CDC advisory panel on Tuesday said health care workers should be among the first to receive it.

“If I have the ability to get a vaccine that’s approved and I get in line because I’m a health care provider, you always have the ability to pull out of the vaccine trial,” Ramers said.

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