Volunteers needed for nationwide COVID-19 vaccine trial

Researchers are making a nationwide call for volunteers in a COVID-19 vaccine trial and some facilities in Florida are among those signing up volunteers for clinical studies.

This week, the National Institutes of Health launched a website calling for volunteers nationwide to test a COVID-19 vaccine. The nationwide trial is in phase three, which means researchers are testing the vaccine in just about anyone. Infectious disease experts said the vaccine development is moving a bit differently for the virus since the pandemic brings a sense of urgency.

“We’ve been trying to develop a coronavirus vaccine much faster,” said Dr. Michael Teng, a virology specialist and professor of molecular medicine at USF Health.

Teng said the trials will study how effective the drug is across the board.

“They seem to show that the lower doses of the vaccine seem to be better, and so that’s even better news because there’s less chance of bad reactivity to the vaccine if you’re using less of it,” said Teng.

Sarasota Memorial Hospital, AdventHealth and BayCare Health Systems told FOX 13 they are not participating in the clinical trials. Tampa General Hospital did not provide a response in time for publication. Research centers in CNS Healthcare in Orlando and the Jacksonville Center for Clinical Research with ENCORE Research Group in Jacksonville are participating in vaccine trials.

“We hope to enroll hundreds at this site. The trials themselves are hoping to enroll thousands,” said Gail Lowe, the site manager at the Jacksonville Center for Clinical Research.

Lowe said it’s important to have volunteers.

“I think people just have to look at history. Polio was a huge problem in years past and once we got a good vaccination for that, it’s not a big problem anymore,” said Lowe.

The trials need to study people from all backgrounds.

“Young, old, different races, different ethnicities because this has affected the whole world,” said Lowe.

If you are interested in signing up for a vaccine trial in Florida, you can visit ENCORE’s website, CNS Healthcare’s website, or NIH’s website.

If you sign up, researchers said they want to make sure your body produces the right antibodies for the virus. So volunteers would not know whether they were injected with the vaccine or a placebo.

“We really need to test against people who get what we call a placebo. They get an injection, but there’s nothing in the injection to stimulate the immune response to the coronavirus,” said Teng. “So just because you got injected with something doesn’t mean you actually got injected with the vaccine.”

Teng said there are at least two drugmakers testing vaccines in Florida, the Pfizer vaccine in partnership with German firm BioNTech, and Moderna’s vaccine. The Wall Street Journal reports that BioNTech is mass-producing vaccine doses that would be ready by December for the public, but they would have to prove effective in trials and get government approval first.

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to covid-19@flhealth.gov. Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

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