On Monday, the University of Illinois at Chicago began testing a vaccine for the novel coronavirus.
UIC Dr. Richard Novak, who is leading the study, said researchers are looking to see if the vaccine will prevent people from getting sick from the virus — which would be “game-changing,” he said — or experiencing severe illness if they do get COVID-19.
“For those people who still get sick from COVID-19, we want to see if those who received the vaccine have better outcomes,” Novak said. “For example, if people with the vaccine have a lower chance of needing to be hospitalized when they do get sick, this would also be a really positive step forward and dramatically impact public health.”
The vaccine, developed by the biotech company Moderna and the National Institutes of Health, doesn’t contain the virus. The RNA-based vaccine is designed to help the body produce antibodies that protect against it.
UIC will enroll up to 1,000 people in the trial, with half receiving a placebo and half receiving the vaccine. Neither the researchers nor participants will know who is getting the vaccine.
The trial’s launch began with just a handful of participants, but researchers are scheduling appointments with other volunteers with the goal of eventually administering shots to 20-40 people each day, at various locations, until the study closes, according to a UIC press release.
“We will have two UIC locations and a site at the University of Chicago,” said Novak, who is UIC professor and head of infectious disease at the College of Medicine. “We expect the study to enroll 1,000 people within the next month or so.”
Volunteers will have an initial appointment with researchers that will include a blood draw, general health exam and COVID-19 test. During the trial, participants will have six in-person follow up appointments, weekly check-ins by phone and must keep an electronic diary. These measures will help researchers track participants’ health and COVID-19 symptoms, like fever, cough, sore throat and body aches.
More than 8,000 people have volunteered for the study so far, and Novak says people should continue enrolling. “We want individuals in our trial to represent the many different groups that live in Chicago,” he said.
Novak said he hopes the trial includes all races and he’s prioritizing those who are considered to be at a high risk of getting sick from COVID-19 or having poor outcomes, such as people with preexisting conditions, older individuals and members of vulnerable communities.
Researchers will follow participants for two years, but early results from the trial could be available as soon as December, according to Novak.