Long Island is one of five sites in the region where a new COVID-19 vaccine from pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca will be tested, officials plan to announce Wednesday.
NYU Langone’s Vaccine Center is looking to enroll 1,000 people between the ages of 18 and 85 in Phase 3 of the clinical trial sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. It is part of a larger, 30,000-person trial of the vaccine being conducted across the globe.
The center has opened a location at NYU Langone Hospital-Long Island in Mineola in an effort to recruit local residents. The other four locations are in New York City.
Earlier this week, Pfizer announced interim results showing its vaccine was 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 infections. Review of that vaccine is continuing, but the news was a boost to the science and medical community.
"We really believe that it’s going to be necessary to have multiple successful vaccines to have enough vaccination for the entire country and the entire world for those who want to take the vaccine," said Dr. Mark Mulligan, chief of infectious diseases and immunology and director of the Vaccine Center at NYU Langone Health, which also participated in clinical trials for the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
Researchers in the AstraZeneca trial are especially looking to enroll people with chronic conditions, older adults, racial and ethnic minorities, essential workers, front-line workers and medical personnel who are at higher risk of getting COVID-19.
Participants will receive two doses of either the vaccine or a placebo of saline solution, one month apart. Their health will be monitored for two years after receiving the vaccine and are compensated for travel expenses and time away from work.
Suzanne Sunday, a retired clinical researcher who grew up in Glen Head and now lives in Bedford, was one of the first participants in the trial.
"I feel like it’s really important for people to be willing to step up and support science," said Sunday, 69. "The only way we are going to get out of this mess we are currently in is by having vaccines."
Sunday received her first dose on Monday at the Vaccine Center at NYU Langone’s Tisch Hospital in Manhattan. She said she was not concerned about any side effects and went through an extensive screening process.
"If there is anything that makes them worry that you might have a negative reaction, they are not going to accept you into the study," she said.
Mulligan said they are only enrolling participants without a prior known COVID-19 infection based on their history. But he said it's very likely some volunteers were infected at some point and didn’t know. They are an important part of the study.
"The CDC estimates up to 40% of people with COVID have either no symptoms or very mild symptoms and don’t get diagnosed," Mulligan said. "We need to test the vaccine on some people that have had prior infection because when the vaccines are licensed by the FDA and rolled out, we are going to be vaccinating large parts of the population, many of whom will have had prior infection but not known it."
Mulligan said the vaccine is a common cold virus which cannot multiply in human cells because it has been altered. It has been given to more than 25,000 people in earlier phases of the trial. It targets the spike proteins which sit on the surface of the virus and latch onto cells, he said.
"The spike protein is a good target for neutralizing antibodies, which would block the virus from being able to enter cells and therefore avoid disease," he said.
He pointed out other vaccine trials are ongoing and the early success of the Pfizer trials is due to community members who stepped forward to participate. About 150 participated in the Pfizer trial.
"We need volunteers for these COVID-19 vaccine trials to help us figure out if the vaccines are protective, if they are safe, if they are well tolerated," he said. "To date, the trials have been very encouraging, but we have a long way to go."
How to volunteer
For information on how to take part in a COVID-19 vaccine trial, go to nyulmc.org/covidvaccine, or contact NYU Langone Hospital-Long Island at (516) 663-3890 / firstname.lastname@example.org