WRAL Investigates

Coronavirus vaccine trials in NC showing promise so far

Posted October 13, 2020 4:52 p.m. EDT
Updated October 13, 2020 8:07 p.m. EDT

— Thousands of North Carolina residents have stepped up to help test the safety and effectiveness of potential coronavirus vaccines, but the trials need even more participants.

Pfizer and Moderna are among nine companies in Phase III clinical trials with the vaccine candidates, and both are working in North Carolina.

"The goal of 30,000 [participants] for the Pfizer trial had been reached, but they continue to enroll more," said Dr. Wayne Harper, a primary investigator for Raleigh-based Wake Research, which is conducting some of the vaccine trials.

UNC Health is running a separate vaccine trial for Moderna.

Wake Research clinical director Aubrey Farray said that, while enrollment in the trial continues, the main focus is adding more minority volunteers to get a clearer picture of the vaccine's effectiveness for everyone.

"They have a hold on white and caucasians so that we can focus more on minority populations," Farray said, noting that it's been a challenge.

"[We have to] try to get past some of the myths about clinical trials, help them see that there are regulatory bodies in place to protect their rights," he said.

Those taking part in the trials are doing it for something bigger than themselves, Harper said.

"They will say, 'We need volunteers to get these vaccines approved as soon as possible,' so they are focused on the need of the community," he said.

Volunteers fill out daily electronic diaries to log any side-effects. If anything serious comes up, they will get an immediate call. To this point, the side-effects range from a sore arm to some mild flu-like symptoms that last about 48 hours.

Most of the local volunteers in the Moderna trial have already received the two-shot regimen 28 days apart, he said.

"It seems immunity will be higher and more longer-lasting with this second dose," he said.

While volunteers are showing signs of increased antibodies to protect them, Harper said he hopes the studies will help answer one lingering question.

"We do not now how long the immunity will last," he said.

Still, he noted, the results are promising so far.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is closely watching the local trials, but it remains unclear when any of the vaccine candidates might be approved for public distribution.

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