HOUSTON - The U.S. is in the third tier or phase of COVID-19 vaccine studies, which means the next step in preventing the spread shouldn't be too far away.
UTMB is among the first in the country to do so, running two trials in both Galveston and League City.
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Dr. Kirk Koepsel is a podiatrist with a background in bacteriology virology parasitology and epidemiology, but he’s switching to the other side of the needle and enrolling in one late-stage trial to help find a fix.
“My true purpose is to really reassure people that we are trying to come up with a solution for this. We have the smartest people on the planet working on this,” he says.
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A Pfizer trial is happening in Galveston. He's in the Cove study, which is testing a version of the vaccine produced by Moderna. The company says even if it’s able to quickly get FDA approval, a vaccine won't be available for widespread distribution until next spring.
Meanwhile, Dr. Koepsel says he's using the experience to learn and teach others, documenting his journey on Facebook.
“The first week, they give you a computer, and you’ve got to take your temperature every day,” he explains. “Then, they call you every week to ask you very specific questions.”
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He's part of a surprisingly large number of health professionals who have signed up for the vaccine trials, hoping to fast track a process that usually takes ten years by cutting it down to a matter of months.
“Just to give you an idea, in general, we would have several days, maybe a week to enter the data; but with this trial, we’re entering the data instead within 24 hours,” says Dr. Richard Rupp, Director of Clinical Trials at UTMB Sealy Institute for Vaccine Sciences.
Rupp says a faster turnaround time doesn’t mean increased risks.
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The study includes half its participants getting a placebo, while the other half get the real thing, along with regular testing, reporting, and tracking results.
“I have complete faith that any vaccine that ends up licensed will be safe,” says Rupp. “I’ve been doing this for about 20 years, and we would like to assure everybody they are not cutting corners.”
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The Cove study is recruiting 30,000 people with tests at about 100 sites across the country, but the approval process could slow down because of a lack of minority participation.
“It’s really important that we get a diverse group to participate in these clinical trials so we know that the vaccine works and it’s safe for everybody,” says Rupp.
Companies often offer incentives for time and travel for the final round before licensing.
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Dr. Koepsel says whether he has the vaccine or placebo, so far, he's feeling good and encouraging others to sign up.
“They’re looking for people like you and me to come up with a solution, and your benefit could be that if you get the real vaccine you could not only be protecting yourself, you could be protecting your family, your friends, and everybody else that you’re around,” says Dr. Koepsel. “That to me was worth the risk.”
If you’re interested in applying to participate in a trial, click on one of the links below: