GOP Sen. Rob Portman: I joined J&J's Covid vaccine trial to encourage people to get vaccinated

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Sen. Rob Portman told CNBC on Tuesday that he’s participating in Johnson & Johnson‘s Covid-19 vaccine clinical trial, hoping to underscore the importance of vaccines in ending the pandemic.

“The most important thing we can do right now is get these vaccines out and on the market, and we’ve got to ensure people are actually going to get vaccinated,” the Ohio Republican said on “Squawk Box,” while also stressing the need to wear a mask and maintain social distancing as U.S. coronavirus cases spike to record highs. He was wearing a mask during his interview from Capitol Hill.

“It’s one thing to have the vaccines, which I think will be ready by the end of this year, so really in just a month and a half, but we’ve got to be sure that people are willing to be vaccinated,” Portman added. “So the reason I participated in this trial was because I think the vaccines are so important.”

Portman said he enrolled in the trial 12 days ago, before the positive efficacy news from Pfizer and German partner BioNTech last week and Monday’s announcement from Moderna. Data from both the Pfizer and Moderna late-stage trials indicated that vaccines were more than 90% effective in preventing Covid-19.

The senator expressed concern about the public opinion polling that showed significant numbers of Americans were skeptical of coronavirus vaccines and therefore may be hesitant to receive them should the Food and Drug Administration clear the vaccine candidates for public distribution.

“These are FDA professionals. These are scientists that are taking extraordinary measures to be sure that it’s safe,” Portman said. “So, I want to encourage everyone to participate in the trials, if you’re comfortable doing that, but certainly to get the vaccine when it’s available.”

Portman said that he feels “great” so far after enrolling in the trial, although he noted he is not sure whether he received the vaccine or a placebo. A key attribute of double-blind clinical trials is that participants remain unaware of which group they are in, so they do not change their behavior.

“I keep a diary. Every Monday and Thursday now I report back as to whether I have symptoms. It’s easy to go through, and again, I encourage people to do it because the more people that participate in the trials, the sooner they can get to the FDA for emergency use authorization and the quicker we can get it out to the American people,” he added.

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