COVID-19 vaccine trial that started at Emory expands to the largest in the world

ATLANTA — A potential COVID-19 vaccine that doctors here in Atlanta helped test has expanded to the largest in the world.

Emory University was part of the first clinical trial for the vaccine developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc.

Beginning Monday, the study got underway with the first of 30,000 planned volunteers helping to test shots. It’s just one of several candidates in the final stretch of the global vaccine race.

[COVID-19 trial underway at Emory shows great results in battling virus, moves to next phase]

There’s still no guarantee that the experimental vaccine 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.

“Unfortunately for the United States of America, we have plenty of infections right now” to get that answer, NIH’s Dr. Anthony Fauci recently told The Associated Press.

Moderna said the vaccination was done in Savannah, Georgia, the first site to get underway among more than seven dozen trial sites scattered around the country.

Channel 2 Anchor Jorge Estevez talked to a man earlier this month who has already volunteered for the trial.

Sean Doyle, a Ph.D. and M.D. student at Emory University was a volunteer for the Ebola vaccine trials several years ago, so when he was asked to volunteer for the first phase of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine trial, he didn’t hesitate.

“I was definitely nervous,” Dolyle said. “With the new drug treatment or new vaccine, you never know exactly what’s going to happen when you get it. But I was very excited to participate to be honest.”

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.

Governments around the world are trying to stockpile millions of doses of those leading candidates so if and when regulators approve one or more vaccines, immunizations can begin immediately. But the first available doses will be rationed, presumably reserved for people at highest risk from the virus.

“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.

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Until then, Haller, the volunteer vaccinated back in March, wears a mask in public and takes the same distancing precautions advised for everyone -- while hoping that one of the shots in the pipeline pans out.

“I don’t know what the chances are that this is the exact right vaccine. But thank goodness that there are so many others out there battling this right now,” she said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report