Despite delays, local coronavirus vaccine trials push towards the finish line

Metro health experts say COVID-19 clinical trials safe to move on

ATLANTA — There are just under four dozen COVID-19 vaccine trials currently in the final safe testing phase across the globe, including several based in Atlanta at Emory University.

Emory’s trials are still moving forward, but several others have been put on hold. There is however a lot of optimism at least one of the trials will be successful and a limited supply of the vaccine might be available before the end of the year.

Wednesday, Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar toured Grady Memorial Hospital. Azar met with doctors and other healthcare professionals to discuss a reported uptick in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

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Channel 2 Action News was the only station to get an interview with Azar who spoke about the timeline for developing a vaccine.

“We’re in a critical period right now, where we need to bridge to the hopeful days of monoclonal antibodies and vaccines really weeks to just months ahead,” Azar said.

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A Brazilian COVID-19 vaccine trial with Astra-Zeneca was halted when one a participant died. The 28-year old volunteer reportedly took a placebo, not the vaccine during the trial.

An independent board has reviewed the information provided by Astra-Zeneca and agreed the trial should resume.

In the U.S., two trials are on hold after some volunteers developed unexplained illnesses.

“We have to look at is there truly any relationship between the vaccine or not. And that’s, that’s the purpose of a safety trial is to follow that,” said Jim Fortenberry of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

Fortenberry is the Chief Medical Officer at CHOA. He says the transparency of the trials is critical when there are health concerns.

“That’s the importance of having these trials to give us that comfort that over across a larger population, that a vaccine is safe,” Fortenberry added.

Pharmaceutical company Pfizer is moving forward with plans to be the first to test a vaccine on children as young as 12. The trial is scheduled to start with teenagers aged 16-17 and will later include younger children.

“We’re still learning how transmission works in children, to adults. And so every instance that we can stop through the use of a vaccine will help us make families more comfortable teachers more comfortable and get us back on track,” said Fortenberry.

Ashley Nealy is part of a vaccine trial underway in Atlanta. She says nothing has changed her confidence in how local and worldwide trials can help end this pandemic.

“So far, it’s been going on really well,” said Nealy. “As a participant in the trial, I will say that I feel like they’re taking every precaution necessary,” she added.

Meanwhile at the Center for Disease Control, health officials say all 50 states have turned in plans for how they plan on distributing a vaccine once one is approved.

“These plans are an important milestone to ensure successful delivery and administration of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines,” said Jay Butler with the CDC.

Pfizer coronavirus vaccine could be distributed by end of year