Potential Coronavirus Vaccine Heads to Final Testing

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File

Researchers reported Tuesday that an experimental coronavirus vaccine developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc. is headed for its final stage of testing on July 27.

At the end of the month, a potential vaccine for the novel coronavirus — dubbed “COVID-19” by the World Health Organization — will move into final testing on 30,000 volunteers. “No matter how you slice this, this is good news,” U.S. government infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci told the Associated Press.

According to work published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the first stage was a marked success: In its initial human trials, 45 people were injected with the vaccine and carefully monitored. Those individuals developed “neutralizing antibodies” at levels comparable to those who survived coronavirus infection.

“This is an essential building block that is needed to move forward with the trials that could actually determine whether the vaccine does protect against infection,” study leader Dr. Lisa Jackson of the Kaiser Permanente Washington Research Institute in Seattle said.

Flu-like side effects common to many vaccines were observed, including pain at the injection site, fatigue, headache, chills, and fever. Three participants who received the highest dosage experienced the most severe effects, but that dose is not intended for use outside of the test environment. Instead, the vaccination would be given in two separate injections, one month apart.

Vaccine expert Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University Medical Center called the side effects a “small price to pay for protection against COVID,” and said he considers the results of the test “a good first step” toward making a vaccine available by the beginning of 2021. Still, he is cautious about jumping the proverbial gun: “It would be wonderful. But that assumes everything’s working right on schedule.”

In response to the results, Moderna’s share price has risen by nearly 15%. The Massachusetts company’s shares have quadrupled in value since the beginning of the year. And while this next stage of testing for the Moderna vaccine will be the largest trial so far, vaccines from Oxford, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer are racing to catch up. Dr. Fauci said he supports all efforts toward a solution.

“People think ‘this is a race for one winner.’ Me, I’m cheering every one of them on,” said Fauci. “We need multiple vaccines. We need vaccines for the world, not only for our own country.”

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