UIC to conduct 2nd COVID-19 vaccine study, seek more volunteers of color

Black and Latino participation has fallen short in an ongoing clinical trial but the lead researcher hopes to improve efforts.

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Students test themselves for COVID-19 at St. Mary Star of the Sea School, in West Lawn

UIC is conducting two trials of COVID-19 vaccines.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

University of Illinois at Chicago researchers are planning to conduct another study of an experimental COVID-19 vaccine as the race for an effective treatment accelerates.

Researchers plan to recruit as many as 1,500 volunteers for a late-stage study of Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine possibly in September, said study leader Dr. Richard Novak.

Having shown effectiveness in early studies, the J&J vaccine will be studied in multiple sites across the country.

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UIC recently began Chicago’s first coronavirus vaccine study, testing a therapy developed by biotech company Moderna. That clinical trial aims to recruit about 1,000 volunteers, though Novak says recruitment of Black and Latino patients is, so far, falling short. Researchers will continue to enroll patients in the Moderna study for the next two or three weeks, he said. There is no shortage of volunteers overall with 8,000 people contacting UIC about participating, Novak said. The problem, he said, is most of them don’t represent high-risk populations, like the elderly or minority groups, vulnerable to becoming infected with the virus.

The teaching hospital is stepping up efforts to try to attract more volunteers of color for the Moderna trial, Novak said. From the first announcement of the study, Novak said it was important to attract a large percentage of Black and Latino volunteers because those populations have been disproportionately infected with the virus. The latest data from City of Chicago shows infections continue to surge in Latino-majority West Side neighborhoods.

Novak said in June he hoped to enroll “a large proportion if not the majority” of patients from Black and Latino communities. As of Thursday, UIC reported 8 percent of those enrolled were Black and about 13 percent were Latino.

“They’re not volunteering as much as we’d like,” Novak said. “We’re still recruiting in those communities.”

To volunteer, call (312) 355-0656 or go online to coronaviruspreventionnetwork.org.

University of Chicago is assisting with the Moderna clinical trial.

Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine is also conducting a study of another experimental vaccine, which was developed by drugmaker AstraZeneca.

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.

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