COVID-19 vaccine trial underway in Memphis as feds ready nationwide vaccine deployment plans

Updated: Sep. 16, 2020 at 5:50 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The federal government is laying out its plan to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine nationwide, as medical experts in Memphis advise it’s just the beginning of a very long process.

The FDA has not approved a vaccine for full use yet, though multiple phase three clinical trials are ongoing, including one in Memphis.

“Ultimately it will be a satisfying feeling to know that I played a role. That’s why I got in this to begin with, in a way to help others,” said longtime Memphian Susan Adler Thorp.

Thorp is a participant in phase three of Pfizer’s clinical trial for a COVID-19 vaccine through CNS Healthcare. She received one shot two weeks ago and gets another on Monday. It’s a blind trial, so she doesn’t know if she’s getting the vaccine candidate or a placebo.

“I have up to 24 months of participation in this trial. That’s two years. But I suspect there are a lot of blood tests down the road, a lot of COVID tests down the road, which is fine. I’m glad to participate,” she said.

The New York Times reports nine vaccines are in phase three of trials.

Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released new details about Operation Warp Speed, the name for the strategy to distribute a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine nationwide.

The plan says the COVID-19 vaccine deployment will utilize a phased-in approach, and officials will prioritize at-risk groups until more doses can be produced.

The Shelby County Health Department has said it will use drive-thru flu shot clinics to set up a distribution system for an eventual COVID-19 vaccine.

“It will go to highest need people initially, so people who are in nursing homes to healthcare workers, to front-line workers like police and fire,” said Dr. Jeff Warren, a member of the city-county COVID-19 task force.

Medical experts agree even when a vaccine or vaccines are approved it will not be an immediate fix, with more research needed to determine the effectiveness of the vaccines and the length of protection they may provide.

“We’ve got a long way to go before we can reliably say the virus is in control and that it can’t come back. We’ll have to see how that goes in the coming months,” said Dr. Steve Threlkeld, an infectious disease specialist at Baptist.

CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said it would likely be the third quarter of 2021 before there is enough vaccine available for the U.S. to return to “regular” life.

If you’re interested in the Pfizer clinical trial in Memphis, CNS Healthcare said they are still enrolling candidates. They have filled the cap for Caucasian candidates and are in need of more minority participation.

A spokesperson added that CNS Healthcare is anticipating another vaccine study will be opening enrollment in a number of weeks, and they will be seeking a wide cross-section of ages and races to volunteer for that trial, as well.

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