CHICAGO (WLS) -- Illinois' first COVID 19 vaccine trial got underway Monday at the University of Illinois at Chicago, according to researchers who are partnering with federal scientists and the biotech company Moderna in the race to beat coronavirus.
In an exclusive interview with ABC7 Chicago, UIC's principal investigator for the Chicago arm of the national trial says the first volunteers were to receive the vaccine or a placebo this morning, administered by university researchers. This critical step is getting underway here even as researchers are looking for more volunteers to take part in the national study that aims to enroll 30,000 participants.
"We're very excited. It's been a long haul getting everything ready and getting the approvals in place," said Dr. Richard Novak, UIC's chief of infectious diseases.
The pace of vaccine research has been accelerated across the country, in part through the Trump Administration's "Operation Warp Speed." Several other potential vaccines are also being tested.
Only a couple volunteers are scheduled to be "enrolled" and receive their injection today in Chicago, but Novak said the university plans to ramp up to as many as 20-40 per day in coming weeks.
UIC will lead the study in Chicago and enroll up to 1,000 people, half will get the vaccine and the other half will receive a placebo. About 500 people will get the vaccine, which will be administered as a series of two shots over the course of four weeks. The other half of the participants will receive a placebo.
Even as the trial gets underway here in Chicago, UIC researchers are seeking more of the right type of volunteers for the study -- those who are at greater risk of being exposed to the virus.
That includes racial and ethnic minorities, people who live in multigenerational households, those over 65 and people in higher risk professions including factory and warehouse workers, frontline workers and healthcare professionals, Novak said. The researcher emphasized that the study is safe for participants, whether they get the vaccine or the placebo, and encouraged those interested to contact the university.
"We need people who, when they're out in the community, are more likely to be exposed," Novak said. "What we need to see to measure is whether or not this vaccine is going to protect them."
Because of her age, ethnicity and asthma, 68-year-old Bonnie Blue fits into three high risk categories for COVID-19, making her a prime candidate for the trial.
Blue said she has been very cautious since the beginning of the pandemic, rarely leaving home and always wearing a mask.
UIC is looking for 1,000 volunteers and so far 8,000 have applied, but researchers are most interested in volunteers with high risk factors including their age, pre-existing conditions, and minorities communities.
The volunteers are screened to ensure they haven't had the virus and then will be placed into either the study group that will receive the trial vaccine or the control group that will receive a placebo. Neither the researchers nor the participants will know who gets the vaccine. All participants will be trained to keep an electronic diary to document their activities and also any potential symptoms.
"We will have two UIC locations and a site at the University of Chicago," said Novak.
The researchers will follow the participants for two years, although Novak said early results from the trial may be available before that - as early as December is possible, he said, although it's not guaranteed.
The UIC program started later than hoped and the clinical trials have already begun at other sites in the country that are part of the effort led by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health.
The Moderna vaccine candidate is an RNA-based vaccine designed to help the body produce antibodies that protect against COVID-19.
People interested in volunteering for the trial can sign up via UIC's online registry, which contains a two-part questionnaire, or the national registry. People can also call UIC researchers at 312-355-0656 with questions.