A potential vaccine for the novel coronavirus being produced by the drug manufacturer Moderna will move into its final testing phase this week, The Associated Press reported. Thirty-thousand test subjects will be given the vaccine, however, there is no guarantee that it will work.
While the COVID-19 pandemic rages — having already killed half a million people worldwide, 149,000 of those in the United States, according to Worldometers — multiple universities, governments, and drug manufacturers across the world are working to produce a functional vaccine against the deadly pathogen.
In the U.S., Moderna has been working in partnership with the National Institutes of Health, to get their vaccine — mRNA-1273 — developed and deployed. So far, the potential vaccine has been through two small-scale clinical trials. According to a National Institutes of Health report, the drug was found to be “safe, generally well-tolerated and able to induce antibodies with high levels of virus-neutralizing activity” in test subjects.
In the final portion of the process, the testing will go large-scale: 30,000 volunteers, 18 years of age or older, who have no symptoms of COVID-19, will be given the experimental medicine at 89 testing sites across the United States.
Normally, getting a vaccine developed, tested and deployed is a process that takes years if not decades. However, in the case of the novel coronavirus pandemic, time is of the essence, and the U.S. government has enacted Project Warp Speed to get a vaccine ready to go as quickly as is safely possible.
NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., noted that developing the vaccine and getting it to test subjects so quickly represents the best of American resourcefulness.
“The launch of this Phase 3 trial in record time while maintaining the most stringent safety measures demonstrates American ingenuity at its best and what can be done when stakeholders come together with unassailable objectivity toward a common goal,” he said.
In the final trial, volunteers will be given two doses 28 days apart. During the trial period, they’ll go about their daily lives, while researchers closely monitor them for symptoms of COVID-19, side-effects of the medicine, or any other issues. Volunteers will provide blood samples to the researchers at specified times.
“These trials need to be multigenerational, they need to be multiethnic, they need to reflect the diversity of the United States population,” said Dr. Larry Corey, a virologist with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute in Seattle.
Collins didn’t give a timetable for when the vaccine could potentially be deployed to the general public — assuming it works — but noted that having it distributed by the end of 2020 is a “stretch goal.”