Western Pennsylvanians sought to take part in coronavirus vaccine trials – TribLIVE

Researchers are seeking at least 750 people in Western Pennsylvania to take part in trials for vaccines against the novel coronavirus that causes covid-19, UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh announced Wednesday.

The trials are part of what is called Operation Warp Speed, a national push to develop rapidly a vaccine that’s safe and effective.

“This is a chance for Pittsburgh to have an impact that’s not just local or national — it’s going to be worldwide,” Dr. Judy Martin, director of the Pittsburgh Vaccine Clinical Trials Unit at UPMC Children’s Hospital, said. “This really allows us to do something that enables us to help”

One of the vaccines that will be part of the trial was developed by Moderna, a Cambridge, Mass.-based biotechnology. On Tuesday, Moderna published in the New England Journal of Medicine results of a phase of its studies for a vaccine it developed.

The Moderna vaccine uses synthetic RNA to spur cells to produce the proteins found in the coronavirus that causes covid-19 that then cause a person’s immune system to respond, preparing it to fight the virus when a person is infected, according to a news release from UPMC and Pitt.

The vaccine has been cleared for another clinical trial that people in the Pittsburgh region can participate in.

Martin will direct Pittsburgh’s part in the trial. About 30,000 people across the country are being sought to participate at 87 locations, including the University of Pennsylvania’s Prevention Research Center in Philadelphia.

Half of them will be given the vaccine and the others will be given a placebo, Martin said.

Participants won’t find out which they received until the study is finished.

Another, yet-to-be-announced vaccine will be researched in the region by Pitt’s Division of Infectious Diseases. That trial will led by Dr. Sharon Riddler, the director of clinical research for the division.

There’s also hope the region will be selected to participate in more trials, she said. If it is, more people will be needed to participate.

“Pittsburgh has a tradition of being on the forefront of vaccine research,” Riddler said.

Dr. Jonas Salk developed a polio vaccine at Pitt in the 1950s. Martin and Riddler both cited Salk’s legacy, along with UPMC and the university’s robust infrastructure as reasons the region is taking part in the trials.

Participants need to be 18 or over and they should not be severely immunocompromised. They ideally are people who have a likelihood of being exposed to the virus because they live in densely packed housing, or because they hold jobs in restaurants, retailers, public transit, health care or day care or work as schoolteachers.

People who are part of Black and Latino communities, older adults and others with health conditions that make them more susceptible to covid-19 will be given a priority.

Those who participate will either be given a vaccine or a placebo, and they may also receive a booster about a month later, followed by periodic blood tests for one to two years to monitor their immune systems.

The guidelines for each study that’s done will vary, both doctors said, and things may change throughout the course of the studies.

“Everything is rapidly changing,” Martin said.

Even if a vaccine is found that’s proven to be effective, participants will be followed for years to help determine if there are any averse affects and to find out how long the vaccine is effective, Riddler said.

Participants will be informed of the potential risks of taking part in the study if they are selected, Riddler said.

Prior to the announcement of the studies, UPMC had a pool of nearly 700 people who were willing to participate in vaccine trials for a variety of diseases, Martin said.

To participate in the trials, click here, call 412-692-7382 or email

Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-226-4715, or via Twitter .

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