Final-Stage Testing of Coronavirus Vaccine Now Underway

Registered Nurse Kath Olmstead gives volunteer trial participant Melissa Harting of Harpersville, N.Y., a blinded study experimental vaccine for Covid-19 developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc. on Monday at the United Health Services facility, in Binghamton, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

(CN) — The world’s largest experimental Covid-19 vaccine trial entered its final phase of testing Monday in the United States, with 30,000 volunteers receiving test shots.

As the global race to stop the deadly coronavirus outbreak pushes scientists and organizations around the nation to find mitigation practices and solutions, 30,000 Americans volunteered Monday to receive experimental vaccine shots created by the federal government.

The outbreak has killed 650,000 people across the globe, including almost 150,000 in the U.S.

“Although face coverings, physical distancing and proper isolation and quarantine of infected individuals and contacts can help us mitigate SARS-CoV-2 spread, we urgently need a safe and effective preventive vaccine to ultimately control this pandemic,” said top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci, referring to the scientific designation of the novel coronavirus.

On Monday, the National Institutes of Health and biotech company Moderna gave volunteers at numerous sites around the U.S. either a real dose of the vaccine or a placebo.

“Results from early-stage clinical testing indicate the investigational mRNA-1273 vaccine is safe and immunogenic, supporting the initiation of a Phase 3 clinical trial,” Fauci said in a statement. “This scientifically rigorous, randomized, placebo-controlled trial is designed to determine if the vaccine can prevent Covid-19 and for how long such protection may last.”

The thousands of American volunteers participating in the human trial have not been told which type of shot they had received in order to make sure the results are blind. 

“This is a significant milestone,” Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said after the very first test injection was given early this morning in Savannah, Georgia. “Yes, we’re going fast, but no, we are not going to compromise.”

The vaccine was developed by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and Moderna in collaboration with the NIH.

Even as the vaccine trial got underway, President Donald Trump told reporters that more states should ease restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus. Many people living in states like North Carolina, however, cannot easily obtain testing. 

“I really do believe a lot of the governors should be opening up states that they’re not opening,” Trump said, answering questions at a biotech company in Morrisville, North Carolina, on Monday. 

Trump’s remarks came after the White House revealed national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien has tested positive for Covid-19 and has “mild” symptoms.

After each volunteer receives two doses a month apart, scientists will track which group experiences more infections as the volunteers go about their daily routines, especially in high-risk areas. 

“We are focusing on speed because every day matters,” Stephane Bancel, CEO of Massachusetts-based Moderna, told reporters Monday.

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