US virus vaccine put to final test in thousands of volunteers

UNITED STATES (AP) – The world’s biggest COVID-19 vaccine study got underway yesterday with the first of 30,000 planned volunteers helping to test shots created by the United States (US) government – one of several candidates in the final stretch of the global vaccine race. There’s still no guarantee that the experimental vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc, 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 US, 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.

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 US 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.

File photo shows vials used by pharmacists to prepare syringes used on the first day of a first-stage safety study clinical trial of the potential vaccine for COVID-19. PHOTO: AP