CLEVELAND — In the race for a COVID-19 vaccine, a number of pharmaceutical companies are working on experimental vaccines and seeking out volunteers for the injections—and in a time of uncertainty, Americans have been forced to engage in self-reflection.
“This is a really interesting question. How much are you willing to risk for the the health and safety of the world?” Deepak Sarma said. “When I was observing all of this COVID stuff happening, I was wondering what can I do to help?”
When Sarma and his wife learned of the two-part experimental Moderna vaccine being distributed to 350 patients at a Cleveland healthcare facility, they jumped at the opportunity.
“It's a blind study, so we don't know if we're getting the experimental vaccine or the placebo,” Sarma said.
For months, healthcare experts have reported minorities being disproportionately afflicted by the COVID-19 virus, citing socioeconomic status, access to care, working conditions and language barriers as possible reasons for the death toll disparity.
“Then you think about, how do people get to work? They go to work on public transportation. Everybody doesn’t have a car,” Dr. Lolita David said. “I did a paper years ago on how do you get minorities involved in research as subjects? You’ve got to ask them.”
Both being of South Asian descent, the couple said the choice to volunteer for the experimental vaccine was an easy one.
“I thought, how can I contribute?” Sarma said. “As a Hindu, I also felt that it was the right thing to do and it was a Dharmic thing to do to volunteer in this way.”
The two-part experimental vaccine was administered to patients over the span of several weeks while they were required to report daily changes or symptoms on a smartphone app.
“How are you feeling? Do you have a sore throat? Do you have a headache? Are you taking any medications for this headache? And if so, did you go to the hospital?” Sarma said.
The father of two said he experienced extreme fatigue and a low-grade temperature after the second injection.
“I really let the kids know, ‘If you see Dad on the floor of the office, give a call to 911’ and what have you,” Sarma said.
Sarma said the reward of helping others outweighed any potential risk.
“If the risk is that I could die or I'm injured in some way, then so be it, because the challenge now for all of humanity is enormous,” Sarma said. “And I'm just one small person in this.”