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Seattle COVID vaccine trials look promising, moves on to next phase

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

We had very promising news last week about the Moderna COVID vaccine. Moderna says this vaccine has now tested as safe, and some of those safety trials happened in Seattle. They’re going on to the next stage now, which will test its effectiveness. So what does that mean for the timeline? Could we actually see something before the end of the year?

Mercer Island MD Dr. Gordon Cohen joined Seattle’s Morning News to discuss.

“I think what’s remarkable is how quickly this happened. I mean, the virus was identified, the genome was published and 66 days later, Moderna had started a trial, which is really sort of record timing. What they ended up doing was they gave the patients two different vaccines 28 days apart, and they used three different doses, and they were able to identify what the right dose was for the vaccine in terms of generating appropriate antibodies to the vaccine and causing them an acceptable number of side effects,” he said.

“The patients developed pretty significant levels of the antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2 virus in response to their vaccine.”

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This shows that it should prevent the virus from taking hold, but that answer remains to be seen, though the news is hopeful.

“Just by developing antibodies to their vaccine doesn’t mean that the antibodies are actually protective. The virus does mutate and they basically direct the vaccine towards the spike proteins on the virus … Now the vaccine manufacturers are smart, and they recognize the likelihood of mutation. So they tried to develop it in such a way that it allows for some degree of mutation,” he said.

“What they don’t know yet — and this is going to take time to find out — is are those antibodies that are generated by the vaccine actually protective against the coronavirus?”

That’s the point of the next phase of the trial, to inject it in the larger sampling of people who they hope are located in an area where the infection is spreading and see how many get it and how many don’t. But that might involve injecting some of them with a placebo. Is that considered ethical?

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“They plan to inject 30,000 people with the vaccine and they will follow those people for an extended period of time and see if the vaccine is actually protective … But to use placebos and the development of a vaccine is a very ethical question that’s actually been address by the World Health Organization because there are some ethical considerations for whether or not you’re going to deprive somebody of the treatment,” he said.

“Where the World Health Organization has sort of come out on this is if you’re comparing two different vaccines, vaccine A that works and vaccine B that’s a new vaccine … it’s unethical to use a placebo because you have a vaccine that does work … But in this case, it’s considered ethical to use it because there is no other available vaccine.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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