KEY POINTS

  • Government has set up the COVID-19 Prevention Trials Network website, where people may sign up for the vaccine trials
  • Researchers are looking for 10,000 to 30,000 volunteers who have high risks of getting sick with COVID-19
  • Trials will be done across 100 U.S. study sites but the first four are in Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati and Seattle 

Volunteers who would like to receive the first experimental coronavirus vaccine in the United States may now sign up and take part in four large-scale studies launched by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on Wednesday, July 8.

These agencies have set up the new COVID-19 Prevention Trials Network (COVPN) website, where people can register to join the coronavirus vaccine trials. Volunteers will have to fill out a questionnaire, which shall be matched and sent to the nearest study site.

The questionnaire includes basic information, such as the volunteer's job, race and habits, to assess the likelihood of coronavirus infection. Signing up doesn't guarantee acceptance to the program because some volunteers may be rejected if they are not ideal subjects for the experiments.

"We need people who are black and brown and representative of harder hit communities by the pandemic," Dr. Carl Fichtenbaum, who leads one of the vaccine trials, told CNN.

The researchers also need volunteers who are active in churches and community organizations or who work at meatpacking plants and factories, which are considered high-risk workplaces. They also want 40% of the volunteers to be over 65 years old with underlying conditions like diabetes, obesity, hypertension and lung disease, as they are the vulnerable people who may easily get sick with COVID-19.

The vaccine will come from Moderna, a Massachusetts-based biotech company.

A US biotech firm Moderna has reported 'positive interim' results in early testing of a vaccine candidate A US biotech firm Moderna has reported 'positive interim' results in early testing of a vaccine candidate Photo: AFP / Thibault Savary

Fichtenbaum will head the study at the University of Cincinnati Health, while Dr. Carlos del Rio and Dr. Richard Novak will lead the trials at Atlanta's Emory University and Chicago's University of Illinois, respectively. These study sites will coordinate with Dr. Larry Corey of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. Researchers will also be working with Dr. Kathleen M. Neuzil of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Dr. Myron S. Cohen of the University of North Carolina, and David S. Stephens also of Emory University. 

The HHS aims to have more than 100 vaccine trial sites across the country with 10,000 to 30,000 volunteers. The doctors plan to begin the trials by late July or early August.

"You will be part of something special, even if the answer is that this does not work," Fichtenbaum said. "That's a very important scientific answer because we need to know what works [and] what won't work."

"Establishing a unified clinical trial network is a key element of President Trump’s Operation Warp Speed, which aims to deliver substantial quantities of a safe, effective vaccine by January 2021,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a press release. “Starting this summer, this new network will leverage existing infrastructure and engage communities to secure the thousands of volunteers needed for late-stage clinical trials of promising vaccines.”