Crucial next step in COVID-19 vaccine development taking place in Tucson

Posted at 4:19 PM, Sep 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-30 19:19:09-04

TUCSON, Ariz.  — Over the last two months, I have shared my journey as a participant in the phase 3 trial of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine.

I took part in a very important step this week in the development of that vaccine. A vaccine which could help Arizona and the nation rebound from the pandemic.

My COVID-19 vaccine journey began with two injections, the first on August 4.

The second injection was 28 days later.

Half of the nearly 30,000 participants received Moderna's mRNA vaccine. The other half received a placebo.

After both injections -- I experienced some swelling of lymph nodes.

Because it's a blind trial, even Quality of Life Medical and Research Center in Tucson doesn't know if I received the vaccine, although the side effects are consistent with those who received it in earlier trials.

This week, 28 days after receiving the second injection, I had my blood drawn. A critical next step in proving the efficacy of the vaccine.

"The blood was drawn for antibody testing," said Dr. Jack McGettigan, owner of Quality of Life Research & Medical Center in Tucson. "Basically, if you get the vaccine, your body should develop the antibodies. That's what we've seen in the Phase 1 studies. The antibodies are hopefully what's going to be protecting you from getting COVID."

The blood is processed and then sent off to Moderna for antibody testing.

The study is also looking at how many in the study come down with COVID -- and did they receive the placebo or the vaccine?

"Over time, we're going to see how well the vaccine works to protect those who got it and those who didn't." explained Dr. McGettigan. "If the vaccine is effective, I'm told the number they're going for is 50 percent protection or better."

Like Moderna, Dr. McGettigan is cautiously optimistic that this vaccine will prove to be effective. Moderna could ask for FDA approval by November.

But Quality of Life and Moderna are still looking to finish filling out the study with minority participants.

"That's the only group that's still left open, people who belong to a minority group," according to McGettigan. "I imagine we've got maybe a couple more weeks to finish filling up the study."

An independent study of Moderna's COVID vaccine by Emory University shows those over 65 could produce as strong of an immune response as younger adults. A promising finding, because older adults are at high-risk.