MUSC continuing COVID-19 vaccine trial and study

Updated: Oct. 29, 2020 at 6:45 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The breakthrough everyone has been waiting for: a vaccine for COVID-19.

Two weeks ago, officials with the Department of Health and Environmental Control released a plan to distribute coronavirus vaccines in the Palmetto state. While there is limited information about the COVID-19 vaccine, trials for other potential vaccines are ongoing.

SCDHEC officials say that no vaccine will be released until it has undergone rigorous scientific and clinical testing. And that’s exactly what’s happening right now at the Medical University of South Carolina with the vaccine AstraZeneca.

“You would get either the vaccine or you would get a placebo; looks just like it, feels just like it,” Dr. Patrick Flume, a professor of Medicine and Pediatrics at MUSC, says.

Flume says they had more than 3,000 people sign up to participate in the trial, which got underway back in September. MUSC was able to enroll 126 people during the first week, but then there was a bump in the road.

Because of an adverse event in the United Kingdom, the study was put on hold and it has been on pause ever since. But Flume says as soon as they’re given the green light to start again, they’ll pick it back up immediately.

“All of the people that we had enrolled in that first week would have had their second injection already, so they’ve already missed that opportunity,” Dr. Flume says.

And, while Flume says it is frustrating they’re having to wait, it’s not uncommon.

“When you’re doing studies, you want to know if the drug works,” Flume says. “That’s key. But you also have to know about safety and things happen.”

MUSC is still monitoring those 126 people who got that initial injection, whether it was the vaccine or the placebo. The group will be able to get their second and final injection once the trial starts up again.

The goal for the AstraZeneca trial is to enroll about 30,000 people. The study with this particular trial is designed to last for two years.

“While we’re all hoping we have a winner and we have a drug that’s safe and effective,” Flume explains. “But we also want to know is that it’s effective in everybody. And so we’re trying to make sure that we recruit what I would call a representative population. And if this vaccine is intended to treat young people and old people, male and female, black and white, then let’s get all those folks into the study, so that we have confidence that the drug is safe and effective and everybody.”

In the meantime, DHEC says COVID-19 vaccines already approved will be limited at first with priority given to frontline medical personnel and residents at nursing homes. DHEC says as vaccination production ramps up and additional vaccines complete the approval process, there will be sufficient doses available nationwide that the state will be able to open up vaccinations to the general public.

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