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Daines took part in COVID-19 vaccine trial

by CHAD SOKOL
Daily Inter Lake | November 18, 2020 4:45 PM

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines said Wednesday he took part in a trial for a COVID-19 vaccine developed by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer and later tested positive for coronavirus antibodies without becoming sick, leading him to believe he received effective doses of the vaccine and not an inert placebo.

The Montana Republican said his parents and his wife also took part in the trial at a health clinic in Bozeman and experienced no serious side effects.

Pfizer, which developed the vaccine with its partner BioNTech, said Wednesday the vaccine was 95% effective at preventing mild and severe forms of COVID-19 following a complete analysis of nearly 44,000 volunteer trial participants. The companies said they planned to apply to the Food and Drug Administration "within days" for emergency authorization to distribute the vaccine.

"The reason I decided to participate in this trial, my goal in all of this, was to help build confidence and trust for Montanans and the American people who are wondering if they should take the vaccine when it is approved," Daines said during a call with reporters. "This is about saving lives. … This is about supporting our health-care frontline heroes. It's about protecting Montana jobs and workers and rebuilding our economy. It's also about American innovation. It's about restoring hope. It's about restoring normalcy into our way of life."

Half of the trial participants received the two-dose vaccine, while half received placebo injections of saltwater. Volunteers still haven't been told which one they received.

Daines said he received his first shot in late August.

"When I received the first [shot], I had soreness in my arm – light soreness, it was nothing serious – not unlike what happens if you get a flu shot," he said. "I had some mild chills that first night, and then it resolved and I was feeling completely fine the next day."

Daines said he had a similar experience when he received the second injection about a month later. He said he monitored his condition and reported back to the Pfizer researchers, and then received an antibody test in mid-October.

"While I don't know with 100% certainty that I actually received the active vaccine, based on the response I had, as well as the effect of the antibodies, it's very likely I did," Daines said.

On Monday, the drug maker Moderna reported its vaccine was 94.5% effective based on an early analysis. The federal government has agreed to purchase 100 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine if it is approved by the FDA; a fraction of that could become available to some groups in the United States by the end of the year.

Daines said he will encourage people to get the vaccine when it is approved, but he does not support mandating it.

"The science and the data is very compelling," he said. "When you look at the effectiveness of this vaccine, at a 95% effective rate, that's as high as any vaccine ever produced. So this is a real tribute to American innovation, to American scientists working in partnership with the federal government in producing a really good outcome."

Daines, whose campaign recently claimed Democrats were "stealing" the presidential election, was asked whether he has any concerns about vaccine distribution as President Donald Trump's administration has refused to work with President-elect Joe Biden's transition team. Daines' spokeswoman cut off the question, and the senator did not say whether he recognizes Biden's election victory, but he expressed confidence in a plan developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The CDC has been working closely with the states to develop a plan for when it's approved," Daines said. "That plan has been in the works for many months, and it's been reviewed by those on both sides of the aisle. And I'm confident there will be a very well thought-out and well-executed plan here once the vaccine is approved. We just need to get to this final stage."

Reporter Chad Sokol can be reached at 758-4434 or csokol@dailyinterlake.com