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Operation Warp Speed COVID-19 vaccine volunteers nearing halfway mark

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services needs about 30,000 participants per vaccine trial. Six vaccine candidates, in total, are expected.

WASHINGTON — The Department of Health and Human Services said they feel "very good" about the number of volunteers offering to take part in U.S. coronavirus vaccine trials.

Two of the six COVID-19 vaccine makers, Moderna and Pfizer, are in phase three of trials, which require about 30,000 participants each. The Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy at HHS, Paul Mango, said Friday that the agency has almost half the volunteers needed.

Mango added that the volunteers vary in age, race and have a wide range of medical conditions.

"We feel very good about those clinical trials," Mango said in a Department of Defense press release. "We would expect that two more of our candidate vaccines will go into Phase III clinical trials by the middle of September. Maybe one of those even sooner, though we're feeling good about the fact that we'll have four vaccines in Phase III clinical trials by the middle of next month."

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The push for volunteers and a vaccine is part of President Trump's Operation Warp Speed program, which is designed to get a vaccine to the American people by January 2021.

Part of the effort involves manufacturing vaccines before they are even approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration, according to the HHS. When a vaccine is approved by the FDA, it will be able to be distributed to the general public.

Mango added that manufacturing is underway for three potential vaccines, and three additional facilities are being set up.

"We feel we are absolutely on track, if not a little bit ahead in terms of our overall objective, which is tens of millions [of doses] of safe and effective vaccines approved before calendar year-end," Mango said.

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A challenge within Operation Warp Speed is the process of distributing the vials, once the vaccine is approved. Some are single-dose options, however, others require multiple doses, Mango said.

Another factor that could slow the program, he says, is ordering the materials used to administer a vaccine, like syringes, hypodermic needles and vials. But, Mango said he's confident the program has a "vast majority of our logistical needs either already covered or underway."

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Operation Warp Speed is a partnership between the Defense Department and agencies within the HHS like the CDC, FDA, the National Institutes of Health, along with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms like fever, cough and shortness of breath. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

The CDC says the best way to prevent getting sick or spreading COVID-19 is by washing hands often, avoiding close contact with individuals and wearing face coverings or masks when around others.