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U.S. stock piling potential COVID vaccine to distribute pending trial, safety clearance

The U.S. government is spending billions of dollars to manufacture vaccine doses ahead of time in hopes this trial, or another one, will work.

ATLANTA — Millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses are in production and in storage, waiting to be distributed to the public. But it’s not known if any of them will ever be used. Scientists must first prove its safe and effective.

Monday morning, top public health officials participated in interviews with local and national media to provide an update on a critical new phase of a vaccine trial. It was also part of a campaign to communicate to the public the vaccine will be safe once it’s ready.

The vaccine, known as mRNA-1273, was co-developed by the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotechnology company Moderna, Inc., and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Emory University was one of two sites in the nation involved in early clinical trials, which was generally found to be safe.

“Now we want to find out, does it work in the real world? Does it actually prevent disease in areas where the virus is spreading? And, I’m sorry to say Atlanta is one of those. So, we’re counting on people in Atlanta to sign up and take part in this,” said Dr. Francis Collins, NIH’s director.

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While the larger-scale study is underway, Collins said the government is doing something it’s never done before. It’s spending billions of dollars to manufacture vaccine doses ahead of time in hopes this trial, or another one, will work.

If the vaccine trial fails, the company will be forced to destroy the doses. 

“But, if it succeeds, you don’t have months of building up your manufacturing capacity before anyone can actually get the vaccine and we expect there is going to be a great deal of urgency about that,” said Collins. “So, the government is spending billions of dollars to actually do the manufacturing now, with the recognition that some of it may go to waste.”

The federal government needs about 30,000 volunteers for the clinical trial. Half will get the vaccine. The other half will get a placebo. Some Georgians are already participating.

Collins said researchers particularly need Black and Latino volunteers for the vaccine trial.

African Americans have been disproportionately devastated by COVID-19, but they are inadequately represented in human studies that would treat a disease that has claimed more than 116,000 lives in the United States, NBC News reported last week.

Almost a quarter of those were Black, according to a study called Color of Coronavirus by APM Research Lab.

RELATED: Coronavirus vaccine enters final stage of testing with one of the trial sites in Savannah

Credit: WXIA

The reluctance to participate is deeply rooted in a clinic trial known as the ‘Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male,’ when infected Black men were solicited to be a part of a 40-year study (1932 to 1972) to treat the disease with penicillin and were offered free medical exams, free meals and burial insurance.

But, they were not given the drug, and 28 of the original 399 Black men died of syphilis, 100 died of related complications, 40 of their wives were infected, and 19 of their children were born with congenital syphilis, reported NBC News.

Collins recognizes those concerns, but hopes the agency’s transparency, and the disproportionate number of Blacks impacted by COVID-19 will convince them to join the study. 

“Maybe this is the moment to try to look at that, figure out how we can all work on this together, to finally put COVID-19 in the rear-view mirror,” said Collins.

So far, volunteers who have received the vaccine have not experienced any serious symptoms or side effects other than a low-grade fever.

The trial will last three to four months. If it’s successful, doses could be distributed to the most vulnerable by the end of the year.


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