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Volunteers for COVID-19 vaccine trials sought in Las Vegas

Updated July 17, 2020 - 4:46 pm

A research center is searching for up to 500 volunteers in the Las Vegas Valley to help test a COVID-19 vaccine during a year-long clinical trial.

The Wake Research-Clinical Research Center in Nevada is running a phase three trial of the first COVID-19 vaccine developed in the U.S. by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc. Researchers reported Tuesday that the first 45 volunteers who were tested in March showed promising results, with the vaccine providing a boost to their immune system.

“No matter how you slice this, this is good news,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infections disease expert, told the Associated Press on Tuesday.

Moderna is also set to begin a 30,000-person study around July 27 that is meant to show if the vaccine is strong enough to protect against the virus.

In a statement, Wake Research announced that six of its facilities were selected to participate in the Moderna trial. Aside from the Las Vegas outpatient clinic, Wake Research facilities in Chattanooga, Tennessee; Fayetteville, North Carolina; Raleigh, North Carolina; San Diego and Dallas are set to test volunteers.

All of the states where Wake Research will be testing the Moderna vaccine were identified as coronavirus “red zones” in internal documents meant for the White House coronavirus task force, according to a report on Thursday by the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit newsroom. That includes Clark County and the Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise metropolitan area, the only locations in the state specified as a “red zone” in the report.

Shonda Lester, the site operations supervisor for the Wake Research center in Nevada, said Friday that the trial will require volunteers to be observed for more than a year while researchers conduct blood draws and monitor for COVID-19 symptoms.

She said the research center is looking for 300 to 500 volunteers, and that researchers want to test essential workers who have higher rates of exposures. Volunteers cannot have previously tested positive for COVID-19, Lester said.

She said those interested should reach out quickly.

“The sooner the better, because it’s very competitive,” Lester said.

The research center also announced it is establishing outpatient therapeutic clinical trials for people with mild to moderate cases of COVID-19, as well as “other preventative treatments,” according to the statement. Lester said those efforts are separate from the Moderna vaccine trial.

Volunteers participating in the vaccine trial will be compensated. Leading the Las Vegas trial will be Dr. Michael Levin, a Henderson-based pediatrician with two decades of clinical research experience, the statement said.

“We have done several vaccine clinical trials in the past 18 years,” Lester said about the research center.

According to results reported Tuesday from the first 45 people tested with the Moderna vaccine, the volunteers developed what are called neutralizing antibodies in their bloodstream — molecules key to blocking infection — at levels comparable to those found in people who have survived COVID-19.

The vaccine requires two doses set a month apart. No serious side effects were reported, but more than half of the 45 participants reported flu-like reactions that are common in other vaccines, including fatigue, headache, chills, fever and pain at the injection site, according to the report in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Three participants who were given a higher dose reported more severe reactions, but that dose is not being tested further.

Some of those reactions are similar to coronavirus symptoms but they’re temporary, lasting about a day and occuring right after vaccination, researchers noted.

The 45 people who were first tested were younger adults, according to the report. There was later testing conducted that included older adults, but those results have not been made public.

Nearly two dozen possible COVID-19 vaccines are in various stages of testing around the world, the Associated Press reported. Candidates from China and Britain’s Oxford University also are entering final testing stages.

Those in Las Vegas who are interested in participating in the Wake Research trial should text “COVID” to 702-357-9650. More information can be found at covidstudies.org, and volunteers can also call 702-893-8968 for further information and to enroll in the trial.

Volunteers must be at least 18-years-old, but do not need health insurance, the research center said.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Amanda Bradford and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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