For a Phase 3 trial of COVID-19 vaccine candidate in Los Angeles, USC is seeking 500 volunteers, with a goal of including persons specifically those deemed most at risk of contracting the virus due to socioeconomic stratus or the nature of their work.
Toward that end, USC will reach out to workers in the industrial city of Vernon, where a number of meatpacking plants and other facilities were hit hard by COVID outbreaks in spring.
"It makes a lot of sense to go to where the problem is," said Edward Jones-Lopez, MD, USC clinical professor of medicine and co-investigator. "We know they're at risk. In essence, we want to show protection or no protection, safety or not safety, precisely in the populations that are at risk of acquiring this infection."
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Since Spring, plants in Vernon have added infection control measures, and the rate of new cases has dropped markedly, according to statistics published by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
Jones-Lopez said the plan is to set up a portable location in Vernon where workers can apply and be screened for inclusion in the trial.
In addition, USC also seeks to have its study cohort include seniors, the age group most vulnerable to serious illness or death from COVID-19, and people of color.
Those interested can add their names to a registry of potential volunteers for a number of trials at the website coronaprotectionnetwork.org. Applicants are asked to fill out a survey.
Two-thirds of those selected will receive the vaccine in two doses. The remaining one-third will serve as the comparison group and will receive a placebo.
The trial is for a vaccine candidate developed by the University of Oxford and the pharmaceutical company Astrazeneca, AZD1222. USC's cohort will compromise a relatively small percentage of the trial's entire worldwide enrollment of 30,000.
"AZD1222 showed robust immune responses in all participants in Phase I/II trial," according to a statement Astrazeneca posted on its website July 20.
Globally, dozens of vaccine candidates, employing a spectrum of different technologies, have begn trials. AZD1222 relies on a weakened version of an adenovirus that "contains the genetic material of the SARS-CoV-2 virus spike protein," according to Astrazeneca. It is among the first group of contenders to get to Phase 3.
Worldwide, more than 20 million COVID-19 infections have been counted, and the infectious disease has claimed more than three-quarters of a million lives, about 170,000 of those in the United Status.
"It's increasingly clear to me and others that the only true way to control this virus will be through a vaccine," said Jones-Lopez."
Full vaccine trials, typically take a year or two, but there is growing optimism that phase 3 trials will lead to a promising vaccine being identified before the end of the year.