Sandra Rodriguez, 63, receives a COVID-19 vaccination at the Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Florida. Volunteers across the state are flocking to take part in clinical trials for a potential vaccine against the coronavirus
Heather Lieberman is betting that she will receive immunity to the coronavirus. Sandra Rodriguez wants to work with scientists for the benefit of the community.
Both have signed up for clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines in Florida, the new U.S. epicenter of the global health crisis.
"I want to be part of the story. I want to help," said Rodriguez, a 63-year-old teacher who sits in the offices of a clinical investigation center north of Miami as the nurses prepare to inject her.
"I want to do something good and I know that this is a good thing. So I am all for it."
So-called Phase 3 clinical vaccine studies, in which thousands of people are participating in the final phase, are becoming increasingly important in the Sunshine State.
With more than half a million cases and over 9,000 deaths, Florida ranks second in the US after California – making it an ideal place to conduct the trials.
This has led to a lot of activity at the Research Centers of America (RCA), a private center that conducts clinical trials in Hollywood, 25 miles north of Miami.
RCA is working with six potential vaccines against COVID-19. Two of them, manufactured by Moderna and Pfizer, are in phase three.
Heather Lieberman (L) says she hopes to gain immunity to the novel coronavirus by participating in a vaccine study – but of course she could end up getting the placebo
Volunteers come in one at a time by appointment. You will be examined by a doctor, signed a document, and given your injection.
You might get an experimental vaccine or just a placebo as a control group is needed to make a basis for comparisons.
They will then be asked to wait a few hours before being sent home once the experts determine that there are no adverse reactions.
"Our experience has been good. We haven't had any problems with any of the patients we have vaccinated," said Nelia Sanchez-Crespo, doctor and researcher at RCA.
Volunteers "poured in," she told AFP.
"They're really eager. I've seen a lot more desire to take part in these particular trials because people really want something to be available sooner."
I am looking for volunteers
This desire for results, as well as the opportunity to gain immunity against the deadly disease, motivated the 28-year-old Lieberman.
Nelia Sanchez-Crespo (L) examines 28-year-old Heather Lieberman, who is participating in a COVID-19 vaccination study at the Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Florida. The doctor says that volunteers "poured"
"It's worth trying," she said while waiting at RCA.
"You can't just live in a box," she added, keeping her fingers crossed that she doesn't end up in the control group.
Every day, RCA tests a vaccine from a different laboratory.
The day Lieberman and Rodriguez visited the clinic, they tested mRNA-1273, developed by Moderna and the United States National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), led by noted government expert Anthony Fauci.
Moderna, a biotech company founded less than a decade ago that has never brought a vaccine or drug to market, began its nationwide phase 3 trials on July 27th.
On the same day, US pharmaceutical company Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech announced that its vaccine BNT162b2 was entering phase two and three of the trials.
Each vaccine will be given to 30,000 people in tests conducted at dozen of clinical research centers across the country.
A COVID-19 vaccine can be given to a volunteer at the Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Florida. The clinic is testing moderna and Pfizer vaccines
Most tests are concentrated in California, Florida, and Texas, the states with the most cases.
Volunteers log on to a website and wait for a call from the clinic. Everyone is welcome.
"Each attempt is looking for different things. We definitely want different groups," said Sanchez-Crespo, who hopes to see hundreds of volunteers each week.
RCA is looking for "healthy people, patients who are first responders – doctors, nurses, firefighters – people who work in airports and restaurants. This is very important. You have contact with a lot of people," she said.
But she said that subjects in "high risk groups because of their medical problems like diabetes, COPD, asthma" are needed.
In addition to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, a third contender, developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, has started phase 3 trials in the West.
Staff at the Research Centers of America in Hollywood, Florida say volunteers like this man are happy to be part of the process of finding a potentially successful coronavirus vaccine
Two more are at the same stage in China.
Russia surprised the world last week when its leader Vladimir Putin announced that his country's vaccine, dubbed "Sputnik" after the groundbreaking Soviet satellite of the 1950s, offers "sustainable immunity" to the coronavirus.
Putin said 20 countries had placed orders for a billion doses, but admitted that clinical trials were still ongoing.
The news was greeted with skepticism by many Western scientists, who fear that Russian researchers will compromise.
To date, the US has poured more than $ 10 billion into six vaccine development projects and signed contracts to ensure delivery of hundreds of millions of doses.
"We saw a lot of excitement with this study," said RCA nurse Barbara Corral, who added that volunteers "really want to be part of something great".
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Volunteers Flock to Vaccination Trials in Florida Virus Hotspot (2020, Aug 16)
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