A major clinical trial is now underway across the country to test an experimental COVID-19 vaccine, and one of the testing centers is a local hospital that was hit especially hard by the virus.
Hackensack University Medical Center is one of 90 locations nationwide participating in this final phase of a clinical vaccine trial that will involve 30,000 people. A total of 300 volunteers are being recruited for a two-year trial involving a coronavirus vaccine developed by Moderna, a biotech company in Massachusetts, in cooperation with the National Institutes of Health.
The Chief of Research at the center, Dr. Ihor Sawczuk, is also the first participant for the study at Hackensack.
"I feel that it's important that I walk the walk. Why should anyone else volunteer if I wouldn't volunteer," said Dr. Sawczuk.
To be considered, volunteers must be over 18, not pregnant or breastfeeding, not had COVID-19 nor any active infections, certain bleeding or immune disorders. Those conducting the study are especially interested in high-risk patients, which would include those with underlying conditions or of advanced age.
It is a double-blind study — meaning Dr. Sawczuk and the rest of the recruits won’t know if they get a placebo or the real thing. It’s 50/50, but because the vaccine is made from a genetic code of the virus, it can’t cause COVID-19 itself — but what about other possible side effects?
"It's just let getting the flu vaccine. You may feel a little achey, or have sore muscles after getting the injection, you may get a little of not feeling well," said Dr. Sawczuk. "But at the end of the day, this is a clinical trial to see if this is an effective vaccine or not."
Participants will get a first injection, and then another 28 days later. They’ll be monitored throughout the trial, with doctors anxiously watching to see the role of antibodies.
"We actually trying to see what is the level of the antibody that forms in each patient and how long does it last. And then during the illness visit, if they do develop COVID, does that antibody level fluctuate, what happens to it," said Dr. Bondi Balani.
After hearing about the trial and asked if they would want to participate in something like that, there was mixed reaction. One woman addressed the risks that come with doing something like that, while another said she would be more than willing to sign up.
"Absolutely, absolutely. I think people should participate, because how else are you going to find a solution for this problem.
For those interested in possibly taking part in the trial, visit coronaviruspreventionnetwork.org to find the nearest location.