The recruitment of veteran volunteers to participate in a free clinical trial for a COVID-19 vaccine has begun in Columbia.

The William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center is one of 17 VA facilities across the country participating in Janssen’s vaccine trials.

The trials are open to VA healthcare-enrolled veterans. Non-veterans who are interested must get approval from the medical center’s director. Prospective participants must be 18 years or older, be in good health and not pregnant. Volunteers will be compensated for time and travel expenses.

The Dorn VA Medical Center is especially interested in recruiting minority veterans and essential workers for the trials.

Dr. Christopher Wood, Executive Director of the Dorn Research Institute, said he believes Columbia can help researchers. “I think we have a diverse population of veterans and I think that’s an important part of this vaccine trial, is to test the vaccine in various populations,” said Wood.

The vaccine will be administered through a single dose injection. After participants have been injected with either the placebo or the trial vaccine, they will be monitored for up to 30 minutes for inflammatory and allergic reactions.

But the trial does not stop there. The VA is monitoring participants well after their initial visit.

“Over the course of two years there will be numerous visits where they will have different vital signs taken, blood drawn and nasal swabs,” said Dr. Wood.

Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars had different opinions in regard to signing up.

Veteran David Michael Tisdale is in favor of signing up for the trial. “I’ll be a test dummy. I mean I don’t mind,” he said.

Gary Landry, a Vietnam War veteran, said he is not willing to participate because of his medical conditions. “If I was sure it was a vaccine that worked, I would have a completely different opinion,” said Landry.

The Commander of VFW Post 6740 in Leesville, Ginger Graham, is concerned for her veterans who have health issues if they sign up for the trials.

“I’m really hopeful that they are putting extra care that the right candidates are chosen,” Graham said. “I’m always going to err on the side of safety for my brothers and sisters who have already served.”

Although Graham has concerns, Wood emphasized the importance of safety related to the outcome of the trial. “I think the number one issue is always safety. We don’t want to proceed unless this vaccine is safe,” said Wood.

Veterans enrolled in VA-health care who are interested in participating in the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial at the Columbia VA may sign up for VA’s coronavirus research volunteer list at www.va.gov/coronavirus-research.

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