Ken Gordon is executive director of the Northwest Association of Biomedical Research.

Much like our doctors and nurses, researchers in the Pacific Northwest have also been on the front lines working at a rapid pace to understand the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19: how it spreads, how it infects, who it infects, why it shows up in a variety of symptoms and why it progresses so fatally to some people.

Now, more than 175 million Americans, and nearly 70% of eligible Oregonians, benefit directly from the biomedical research that developed these vaccines, bringing the pandemic to an end.

Unfortunately, some animal rights organizations have used disinformation and fake news to denigrate the process of biomedical research over the past year.

Before anyone can be treated or vaccinated in America, the drugs go through a long process of laboratory research, humane animal modeling, and human studies to make sure they work and are safe.

For coronavirus vaccines, this work began in libraries as researchers scoured the coronavirus literature and looked at decades of previous animal and human studies on vaccines. With this information in hand, the researchers went to their labs, where they identified ways to boost immunity to COVID-19.

The next step involved humane animal modeling to see if the products developed in the lab worked in living organisms. These animal studies usually started with mice, and if the results looked good, they started working with animals like monkeys, which share more similarities with humans.

The final step involved human studies that initially started with just a few people and moved on to trials involving tens of thousands of volunteers. These studies aimed to determine both the safety and efficacy of these vaccines.

We are all incredibly lucky to have been able to develop three highly effective COVID-19 vaccines (and more in the pipeline) in such a short time. Vaccine development work is still progressing with researchers at Oregon Health and Science University working on the next generation of vaccines for COVID-19.

I understand how all of this work has created an existential crisis for animal rights groups, who oppose the use of any animal in research. But that’s no excuse to tell twisted research stories and intimidate researchers.

Millions of Americans have directly benefited from ethical biomedical research and are now protected from severe symptoms and hospitalizations from COVID-19. Without animal studies, we wouldn’t have these vaccines and we would still be in the midst of one of the worst pandemics in history.

Worse yet, an animal rights activist at a local university recently said he would rather millions die if that meant the end of animal studies. Another anti-research activist compared animal researchers to child traffickers.

The people who suffer the most from COVID-19 are people of color, people with underlying health conditions, the elderly and people with disabilities. These are people apparently some anti-research activists would throw under the bus.

I encourage people to be critical thinkers. Do your research and check the facts. We live in a democracy where we can vigorously debate issues. However, vigorous debate does not give activists the right to invent alternative facts.

Every academic research university, hospital and nonprofit research institution in the Pacific Northwest has joined this fight against COVID-19. Much like frontline doctors and nurses, the hard work and dedication of these biomedical researchers saves lives and ensures a healthier community.

The 175 million of us who are vaccinated in America, and the many who are still protected even though they cannot get vaccinated due to underlying health issues, should say #Thank you for research to our universities and local research institutes that save lives.

Do not accept the lies of those who bitterly reject science.

Ken Gordon is executive director of the Northwest Association of Biomedical Research.

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