Key COVID-19 vaccine trials at UNC continue as 2 drug companies report major progress

Orange County News

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) — One potential COVID-19 vaccine is already the hands of the FDA this weekend as Pfizer seeks emergency use authorization.  

Another potential vaccine, by Moderna, is likely not far behind.  

Both companies reported their vaccines are about 95 percent effective, but that doesn’t mean the trials are over.

At UNC, 175 people are participating in a clinical trial for the COVID-19 vaccine made by Moderna.

Dr. Joseph Eron, the chief of the division of infectious diseases at UNC, says the study needs to continue, both to gather long-term safety data and to see how long the vaccine protects people.  

If the FDA authorizes the vaccine for emergency use, he says people in the trial who received the placebo will likely be given the actual vaccine.

“If we vaccinate the people with the placebo now, we will have a little bit time difference between the people that originally got it and then the people who get it later, so we can see whether the effectiveness kind of decreases over time. We really do need to learn that so we know how often we might need to give it in the future,” explained Eron.

He says the vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna are fairly similar, but have different storage requirements.

“The Moderna vaccine (is a) little bit more stable than the Pfizer vaccine. The Pfizer requires a very, very cold temperature (of) -70 centigrade. The Moderna has to be frozen, but at a higher temperature and it can exist just refrigerated so not frozen for up to a month once it gets to a site,” Eron noted.

The FDA will determine whether to authorize the vaccines for emergency use, a process which will take at least a matter of weeks, but Dr. Eron says the speed at which drug makers reached this point is remarkable.  

“We didn’t even know about this a year ago, even know about the infection, let alone what the right compound is for vaccine, what we should use. It’s really incredible; it’s unheard of,” said Eron.

He also spoke about people involved in the trials.

“The participants particularly need to be congratulated because they volunteered for something that, who knows if it worked. Who knows what potential problems there could have been, so those are real heroes,” Eron said.

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