‘Volunteer State’ lives up to name through COVID-19 vaccine trials

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)- The ‘Volunteer State’ got its name for a reason: Tennesseans are known to step up when it matters. In a pandemic, the Volunteer spirit, for some, means volunteering for a COVID-19 vaccine trial.

Per capita, Knoxville has just as many COVID-19 trials as any other major city. When dozens of drug and pharmaceutical companies began to create a coronavirus vaccine, some of the early calls for volunteers for those trials were to Knoxville.

“We don’t need one vaccine, we need several vaccines in order to be able to vaccinate the world’s population as soon as possible,” said Dr. William Smith, Principal Investigator at the Alliance of Multispecialty Research in Knoxville.

The company, previously known as Vol Research, has been in the business of vaccine trials for more than 20 years, and in that time, has been involved in nearly 600 vaccine trials.

Specific to COVID-19, AMR has been involved in at least five vaccine trials.

That includes Pfizer, alongside partner BioNTech, announced Friday that the company will submit a request the same day to the U.S U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization of their COVID-19 vaccine candidate, according to ABC News.

COVID-19 vaccine trials recruiting volunteers in Knoxville:

  • Pfizer submitted data that shows the vaccine has a 95% success rate. Friday’s request to the FDA will potentially enable the use of the drug in high-risk populations in the United States by the middle to end of December, according to a joint press release.
  • Moderna, likely the next company to announce FDA authorization before the end of the year.
  • Johnson and Johnson announced in October they would start recruitment for the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine again after a temporary pause.
  • AstraZeneca and Oxford University’s potential COVID-19 vaccine is enrolling volunteers in Knoxville currently. ABC News reports that trials have already shown strong immune responses in older adults, with researchers expecting to release late-stage trial results by Christmas.
  • Merck, another pharmaceutical company in early trial phases and enrolling in Knoxville.
  • Sanofi Pasteur, a vaccine company, will start trials at the end of 2020.

“It’s going to be a slow process. All the logistics of how to do this are still being worked out as well. Particularly for the needs for very cold refrigeration to transport Pfizer’s vaccine and store it until it’s used,” said Dr. Smith.

Although AMR is involved in trials for other vaccines, COVID-19 is at the top of mind all of the world.

“We are clearly involved in Operation Warp Speed company trials. We hope this is providing a service. There are as many COVID-19 vaccine trials underway in Knoxville per capita as any place in the country,” said Smith.

Volunteers who chose to take part in these trials come in-person for enrollment, after calling or applying online. Then, they are asked to keep a diary to track symptoms.

“The primary concern in these studies is subject safety: we want to know everything that happens to people with the studies,” said Smith.

There are two groups in every study: one group gets a dose of the vaccine, the second group gets a placebo. If anyone within the study begins to show signs or symtoms of COVID-19 doctors involved in the trial will check-up, and likely, they will receive a COVID-19 test.

 “We want to identify the COVID positive subjects as quickly as possible and get the information that it works. But also, we want to pay particular attention to the health and safety of our study subjects,” said Smith.

One of the next COVID-19 vaccine trials AMR is recruiting volunteers for is AstraZeneca.

Anyone interested in volunteering can go online or call (865) 305-DRUG (3784).

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