Coronavirus: Moderna vaccine reaches final stage of testing with 30,000 volunteers in major study

'We’re optimistic, cautiously optimistic', president of biotechnology company says

Louise Hall
Monday 27 July 2020 16:12
US signs $2bn deal to develop coronavirus vaccine

One of the final steps of a major vaccine study in the US is now under way with the first of 30,000 planned volunteers receiving shots of the experimental dose.

The vaccine, developed by National Institutes of Health and Moderna, is one of several candidates in the final stretch of the global race to find a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, which has claimed more than 648,000 lives worldwide.

The Moderna trials will be conducted blindly with two different groups of volunteers who are unaware if they’re receiving the real shot or a placebo.

They will receive two doses and then return to their normal lives where scientists will track which group experiences more infections.

“We’re optimistic, cautiously optimistic” that the vaccine will work and that “toward the end of the year” there will be data to prove it, Dr Stephen Hoge, president of Massachusetts-based Moderna, told a House subcommittee last week.

There’s still no guarantee that the Moderna vaccine will protect against the virus and it will take months for the first data to arrive from the Moderna test if the study goes to plan.

The first vaccinations were completed in Savannah, Georgia, one of more than seven dozen trial sites across the country that are set to help to check not only if the vaccine works but also whether it is safe for use.

Several other vaccines made by China and by Britain’s Oxford University earlier this month began smaller final-stage tests in Brazil and other hard-hit countries.

However, the US government is conducting its own tests of any vaccine that might be used in the country. Every month through fall, the government-funded Covid-19 Prevention Network will roll out a new study of a leading candidate with 30,000 newly recruited volunteers.

More than 150,000 people have filled out an online register declaring their interest in participating in the trials, said Dr Larry Corey, a virologist with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute in Seattle, who helps oversee the study sites.

“We all feel so helpless right now. There’s very little that we can do to combat this virus. And being able to participate in this trial has given me a sense of, that I’m doing something,” Jennifer Haller of Seattle told the AP.

“Be prepared for a lot of questions from your friends and family about how it’s going, and a lot of thank-you’s.”

The doctor emphasised how important it is that enough Black and Hispanic participants are reflected in the studies as populations that have been hit hard by the virus.

“These trials need to be multigenerational, they need to be multiethnic, they need to reflect the diversity of the United States population,” Dr Corey told a vaccine meeting last week.

Vaccine development around the world has been severely accelerated against normal timelines with scientists confident that vaccination is the world’s best hope in the fight against the pandemic, which has infected over 16 million people in the world so far.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press

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