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Sunday, November 1, 2020

Racing for a VaccineWestern & Southern Thanksgiving Day Race Recruits Volunteers for COVID Vaccine Trials

People go all out for the Western & Southern Thanksgiving Day Race. In 2018 an entire turkey dinner ran to support charity! (Photo:

By Julie Isphording

Jane Khoury, PhD, is one of those good citizens who helps whenever she can. "I'm a blood donor, a volunteer and a healthy grandma," says the 68-year-old professor at Cincinnati Children's Hospital and 10-year participant in the Western & Southern Thanksgiving Day 10k.

So, her decision to join a local clinical trial for a COVID-19 vaccine was predictable. "I just thought, 'I have to help,''' she says. “Children’s Hospital and the Thanksgiving Day Race were looking for healthy, older people, and I’m so happy that I am…well, old and healthy.” 

Vaccine developers — locally and globally — need thousands more like her to take part in studies that will further test how well the vaccines work and how safe they are in much larger groups. As everyone across the nation knows, we’re in a race to get a vaccine so our lives can get back to normal.

Fortunately, Cincinnati is one of the leaders in the process for several reasons. “We are the home to one of the largest clinical trial companies in the world — CTI Clinical Trials & Consulting — and we have several of the best medical centers in the country,” says William Barrett, MD, medical director of the Barrett Cancer Center at UC. “Secondly, we have many big companies and organizations like the Western & Southern Thanksgiving Day Race willing to help recruit thousands of volunteers.”  

So far, hundreds of people have willingly volunteered for various personal reasons. “I think that those of us who are able should step up and help,” says Tom Banta, managing director at Corporex. “Being part of this team — from CTI to the Thanksgiving Day Race to other volunteers — is meaningful, regardless of my small part.”    

With their huge database of healthy people, the Western & Southern Thanksgiving Day Race was quick to help recruit participants. “We are in challenging times and want to do whatever we can to lead our community to stability and prosperity — and running races together again,” says John Barrett, CEO of Western & Southern. “The race draws more than 12,000 participants each year so that’s a big pool of candidates for the vaccine trials.”

Help Wanted

"Globally, we are looking to recruit millions of people into this registry by September," says Tim Schroder, CEO of CTI Clinical Trial & Consulting, and a vaccine trial volunteer too. “Here locally, we need at least 10,000. “We are thankful that the race was willing to help.” 

Both Tim Schroeder, CEO of CTI Clinical Trials & Consulting and Dr. Bill Barrett, Medical Director of the Barrett Cancer Center are instrumental in the success of the W & S Thanksgiving Day Race and recruiting for the COVID vaccine trials. (

On the website — — volunteers complete a screening registry, which takes about 10 minutes. In a subsequent phone call, they are asked for personal contact information, demographics on where they live, height, weight, race, ethnicity, occupation, details about exposure to COVID-19, and other data. (Full disclosure: I volunteered for the trial and answered these specific questions).  

“It's important to attract a broad cross-section of people,” says Schroeder. “Not just young and healthy as well as older people. The trials are not just to evaluate the vaccine effectiveness, but also the effect on a person's health.” 

Most of the studies will require volunteers to visit the research site 10 or more times over 1 or 2 years. Every study involves getting shots or IVs. Some volunteers will get a vaccine, and others will get a placebo. None of these studies involve exposing volunteers to the virus that causes COVID-19.

"This is an unprecedented moment in our history, and it requires all of us to get involved, especially those who may be vulnerable to infection and disease,” Schroeder says. “The vaccines have been tested thoroughly to make sure they’re safe.” 

For Dick Klus, a 79-year-old retired fundraising director at St. Xavier High School, the decision to join the CTI trial in Cincinnati was simple. “We need a vaccine. I knew I was healthy and could help.” He says there is nothing that scares him about participating in the trial except the concern that his wife, Nancy, is somehow affected. 

Lee Crume, CEO of the Northern Kentucky Tri-ED, says the hardest part of volunteering is the unknown. “I know there could be a negative consequence, but I try to keep this in perspective. You’re way more likely to be attacked by a bear or struck by lightning but you are aware,” he says.

Khoury says that volunteering has been easy. She praises study administrators for always putting her health and safety first. “It's made me feel confident that there are a lot of smart, confident people working on the vaccines in Cincinnati.”

In one way or another, the panel of volunteers felt that participating in the vaccine trial was really empowering. “You feel like you are taking action and doing something to help solve the crisis, help family and friends, and get the world back to normal,” says 39-year-old Anna Knierim.

The Race? When So Much is Uncertain, So Much is Still Possible 

While the vaccine trials can bring us together in a new a different way, we still wonder — yes, there is a lot of wondering going on — will we run together on Thanksgiving Day in Cincinnati and continue a 111-year-old tradition? In a script that has been rewritten each day, there have been a few constants: We must wait for that answer, hope for a better tomorrow and take nothing for granted each day. 

The Western & Southern Thanksgiving Day Race celebrates its 111th year as its first virtual race but expands to a full week and a community-wide “route.” (

When we first wrote this article, our kids were getting ready to start the school year in new and different ways, nothing was too clear. It was somewhere in between hallelujah and heartbreak. One day there are lots of detailed happy plans, and the next day everything seems to be running in a different direction. 

“We don’t know yet how the race is going to look and feel and turn out,” says John Barrett. “But here’s the good news — we will figure it out and persevere, just like Cincinnati has through uncertain times before.”

Since that time, it has been decided the race will be virtual this year. Families and small groups are encouraged to participate with a run or walk anywhere they choose. The good news is the race is not confined to one day — participation is open for an entire week, from November 23 to November 29.

The race might not be the same as last year, but everything of great meaning doesn’t always come in the same gift-wrapped package. Since Thanksgiving is such a special day for families and a time to come together and be thankful, the race wants to put together something special for the holiday event. 

The best idea yet from the community is to put together small family and friends “pods” or “running parties” where it is safe for people to run in small groups and share the festive time together — TOGETHER — and still share a Thanksgiving Day tradition. Check for details. 

Be Thankful Cincinnati. A new challenge this November?

“What if” are magic words! What if the race did something that has never been done before? What if we celebrated thankfulness every day in November? What if people were challenged to fill their days with different ways to show their thankfulness from a run in the parks, to delivering a pumpkin pie to a retirement home, to putting an inspirational note in their child’s pocket?

The “thankful challenges” could vary from things you can do on your own, to things you can do with other people (with a mask and social distancing), to things you can do for other people. All the “gifts” to yourself and others would simply be up to your imagination. How beautiful our days and our world could be when thankfulness touches them?

And that’s where we stand today in as I write this in August! When this hits your kitchen table, I hope there is a bigger story. We simply must give to the world the best we know… and the best will come back to us. I’m a firm believer in that.

Get excited!

Why Help Test the COVID Vaccine?

“When you participate in a clinical research study, you become an agent of change,” says William Barrett, MD, medical director of the Barrett Cancer Center at UC. “Research participants are critical in helping physicians and other researchers develop and test better ways to diagnose and treat patients.” 

In addition, participants in clinical trials can play a more active role in their own health care. “They may gain access to new research treatments before they are widely available, and they may help others by contributing to medical research,” says Barrett.

Most clinical trials also allow for compensation for time and travel, too. 

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