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Cleveland professor shares experience after learning he received COVID-19 vaccine during Moderna trial

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Posted at 10:55 AM, Feb 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-23 10:55:10-05

CLEVELAND — As the vaccine rollout in Ohio continues with some major hiccups along the way, results from early trial periods of COVID-19 vaccines are now being shared with participants. The early stages of development of COVID-19 vaccines relied heavily on volunteers, who at the time were unsure if they’d receive the actual vaccine or a placebo.

Six months after his initial shot in the arm, News 5 circled back with a Cleveland professor who found out he did receive both doses of the Moderna vaccine and he hopes his participation will help serve minority communities.

Deepak Sarma is a father, a professor and a person of color.

“Those studies weren't getting enough minorities who were able to volunteer because of some suspicion about vaccinations,” Sarma said.

When he learned of the opportunity to volunteer for the blind Moderna vaccine trial there was no hesitation to roll up his sleeve.

“I see people who are actually on the front line doing things,” Sarma said. “I couldn't take care of a patient the way that a healthcare worker could.”

Sarma was informed in early February that out of 350 Cleveland-area participants in one particular trial focusing on minorities, he did in fact receive the real drug.

“It's a relief. Thankfully, I didn't get the placebo and I got the right sort of symptoms that you're supposed to get,” Sarma said. “Does this mean I'm going to change the way I behave in the world? No. I’m going to continue to wear a mask and I'm going to continue to use hand sanitizers, because even though I have the vaccine, that doesn't mean that I can't get the variation.”

However, Sarma has mixed emotions after officially learning he was inoculated when others have struggled to sign up.

“I don't know if guilt is the right word, but it's a very peculiar feeling to know that there are people out there who are older than I am and who are much more vulnerable than I am who don't have the vaccine yet,” Sarma said.

Sarma hopes sharing his firsthand experience will encourage and enlighten others, particularly people of color, who may be apprehensive about rolling up their sleeves.

“There's been a huge history of exploitation of African-Americans in the history of the United States and certainly in the kind of medical communities, but this is not one of these things,” Sarma said.

Patients who participated in this particular trial study last fall will be given both doses of the Moderna vaccine if they received the placebo injections several months ago.

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