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UIC to test COVID-19 vaccine

At least 400 of the people tested will be 65 or older, and researchers hope to test a large number of African American and Latino residents because both groups have been shown to be at high risk of infection and death in Chicago.

UIC’s Dr. Richard Novak will lead the Chicago testing of a COVID-19 vaccine. 
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A vaccine to protect those at risk of becoming infected with the COVID-19 virus will be tested on at least 1,000 people in Chicago beginning next month.

University of Illinois at Chicago researchers will conduct the clinical trial to determine if a vaccine developed by Massachusetts-based biotechnology company Moderna is effective in preventing people from getting the virus, which has killed more than 6,300 people in Illinois. The researchers also will study whether the vaccine prevents people from getting severely ill from COVID-19.

The study is expected to begin July 9. At least 400 of the people tested will be 65 or older and researchers hope to test a large number of African American and Latino residents because both groups have been shown to be at high risk of infection and death in Chicago, said Dr. Richard Novak, a UIC professor who is heading the trial.

“We’re recruiting heavily in the Latino and African American communities,” Novak said in an interview. “I hope to enroll a large proportion if not the majority.”

The trial, administered by the U.S. government, will last two years, though researchers are hopeful that if the vaccine proves to be effective later this year or by early 2021 that it could be approved for use next year.

Those enrolled in the testing will be given a shot at the beginning of the trial and another a month later. Half of the people will be given a shot of the vaccine and the other half will be given a placebo, a solution with no medicine, so that researchers can compare the two groups to determine effectiveness.

UIC is one of a number of sites across the country that will be testing the Moderna vaccine. In all, more than 30,000 people are expected to be tested. The vaccine is one of several being rushed to human testing through a U.S. government program called Operation Warp Speed.

While UIC is the first to test a COVID-19 vaccine in Chicago, Novak said he expects other Chicago hospitals will be involved in testing additional vaccines. UIC has been involved in other coronavirus-related studies, including testing the antiviral medicine remdesivir. There are more than 40 clinical trials that are either under way or completed at a number of sites in Chicago, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Vaccine testing usually takes place over many years and the speed at which the COVID-19 medicines are being tested is unprecedented. How fast results come in will likely depend on the trend of the virus in coming months, Novak said.

Some predictions suggest that the outbreak of the virus will subside as it is doing in Chicago and Illinois now but will spike up in the fall. Researchers will need to see enough cases of people getting sick from the virus in the non-medicated group to accurately evaluate whether the vaccine is working in the group receiving the Moderna therapy.

“If the disease resurges in the fall as is predicted, we may have an answer in December,” Novak said. “It’s highly dependent on the disease. Realistically we won’t know until early 2021.”

Novak said he hopes to test at multiple sites around Chicago and noted that Hyde Park, Little Village and Pilsen are three neighborhoods that will be targeted to attract participants in the study.

He said he hopes to also conduct some testing among warehouse and manufacturing sites where there is the potential for spread of the virus.

Volunteers interested in participating in the trial can contact the UIC researchers at (312) 413-5897 or email at ProjectWishDOM@uic.edu.

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