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Seeking volunteers: SLU starts process of testing Moderna vaccine against COVID-19

Seeking volunteers: SLU starts process of testing Moderna vaccine against COVID-19

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ST. LOUIS — St. Louis University has begun recruiting volunteers to test a new vaccine against COVID-19 manufactured by biotech company Moderna Inc., the university announced Wednesday.

The announcement comes three weeks after SLU and Washington University made public their intent to start testing vaccines as part of the nationwide effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. SLU plans to enroll hundreds of adult volunteers and seeks out participants who are at high risk of serious complications were they to become infected.

"We are hoping that the St. Louis community will come out in full force for these studies," said Dr. Sharon Frey, clinical director of SLU’s Center for Vaccine Development. "Everybody wants to find a solution to the pandemic, and the best solution is to find a vaccine that will prevent disease."

Moderna was the first U.S.-based company to enter clinical trials for its coronavirus vaccine in March. Early testing on healthy volunteers showed promising results, indicating that the vaccine stimulated an immune response and did not cause severe side effects.

The purpose of this round of testing, which began at some U.S. sites in late July, is to see if the vaccine protects against or reduces the severity of the disease. 

Vaccines train the immune system to recognize harmful virus particles and successfully attack and kill them, preventing potential future infection. The Moderna vaccine, called mRNA-1273, is a lab-created snippet of the genetic material of the coronavirus that prompts the immune system to fight the infection.

Participants of the new trial will be randomly assigned to receive two injections of the vaccine or a placebo in their upper arm, 28 days apart. Volunteers will be monitored for any side effects and reactions and for symptoms of COVID-19 over a period of 25 months, with six scheduled visits to the clinic and 25 phone calls.

Researchers stress that it is impossible to get COVID-19 from the vaccine and that they do not seek to infect participants with the virus intentionally.

Frey said it is important to continue wearing a mask and practice social distancing regardless of whether an individual has volunteered in the study.

"We don't know if this vaccine works — that's why we're testing it," she said. "The truth of the matter is — people become exposed because they let their guard down."

Even if the vaccine works, neither the nurse administering it or the study participant will know if they received a vaccine or an empty placebo.

For people who want to help make a difference, participating in these trials is a way to help find the solution against COVID-19, said Frey.

SLU's center is looking for participants 18 and older, especially those working in hospitality, tourism and business industries, public health workers, educators and students.

The trial is seeking to recruit participants from diverse racial backgrounds and people at high risk for developing severe disease — those who are 65 and older, and people with underlying health conditions such as heart or lung disease or diabetes. 

To learn more about participating in the COVID-19 vaccine trial at St. Louis University, visit and complete the questionnaire or call 314-977-6333 or 1-866-410-6333. 

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