Monday, July 27, the world’s biggest COVID-19 vaccine study begins with the first of 30,000 planned volunteers.
The volunteers are helping to test shots created by the U.S government – one of several candidates in the final stretch of the global vaccine race.
However, there’s still no guarantee that the experimental vaccine, developed by the National Institute of Health and Moderna, will really protect.
The needed proof: Volunteers won’t know if they’re getting the real shot or a dummy version.
After two doses, scientists will closely track which group experiences more infections as they go about their daily routines, especially in areas where the virus still is spreading unchecked.
NIH’s Dr. Anthony Fauci told The Associated Press, “Unfortunately for the United States of America, we have plenty of infections right now” to get that answer.
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.
But the U.S. requires its own tests of any vaccine that might be used in the country and has set a high bar: Every month through fall, the government-funded COVID-19 Prevention Network will roll out a new study of a leading candidate — each one with 30,000 newly recruited volunteers.
The massive studies aren’t just to test if the shots work — they’re needed to check each potential vaccine’s safety. And following the same study rules will let scientists eventually compare all the shots.
In August, the final study of the Oxford shot begins, followed by plans to test a candidate from Johnson & Johnson in September and Novavax in October — if all goes according to schedule. Pfizer plans its own 30,000-person study this summer.
According to Dr. Larry Corey, a Virologist with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute, “These trials need to be multigenerational, they need to be multiethnic, they need to reflect the diversity of the United States population.”
Corey stressed that it’s especially important to ensure enough Black and Hispanic participants as those populations are hard-hit by COVID-19.
Normally, it takes years to create a new vaccine from scratch, but scientists are setting speed records this time around, spurred by the knowledge that vaccinations is the world’s best hope against the pandemic.