PEORIA – Some area residents are literally rolling up their sleeves in the fight against COVID-19.
So far at least 140 central Illinois residents have bared their arms to receive an injection of either a vaccine or a placebo as part of a clinical trial for COVID-19 vaccines being done at Optimal Research, a clinical research lab in Peoria.
It’s one of a number of COVID-19 related clinical trials happening in central Illinois, giving area residents an opportunity to help researchers learn how to battle the newly emerged virus. Other area trials are looking at treatments, like convalescent plasma and steroids, while still others are looking at the effects of COVID-19 on people with other health issues, like cancer.
Colin Corbett, 32, an assistant professor of economics at Bradley University, jumped at the chance to sign up when he heard about the vaccine trial.
"I felt like it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I felt very, very lucky and grateful for the opportunity," said Corbett. "I’m very much motivated by trying to make a positive difference in the world. I try to donate blood regularly for that reason, and this seemed like just another extension of trying to make a positive difference in the world."
While donating blood could potentially help a couple of people, participating in a vaccine trial has the potential to help a whole lot more, said Corbett.
As an added incentive, participants also get paid per visit. Total compensation, up to $1,200, depends on how much time is required for each procedure, said Danielle Scoles, director of the Optimal Research lab.
Participants in the first two phases of the trial need to be COVID-19 naive, meaning they haven’t had the virus. Volunteers will be screened for both COVID-19 antigens and antibodies. Participants in the third phase, however, could have had the virus at some point in the past.
"Phase 3, it’s more real life. If this vaccine were marketed and you went to Walgreens to get it, you wouldn’t have an antibody test. So they have to test it in all people because it needs to be more real life," said Scoles.
Once approved and given an injection, participants will be asked to come back to the lab periodically for checkups and blood draws.
"We are checking for safety and immunogenicity, so we bring people back and run safety labs, and talk about reactions they may have had. And if they get sick in any way — it could just be a cold — we bring them (in) and do tests for COVID to see if they have it," said Scoles.
Though the trial could go on for more than a year, it’s likely a successful vaccine would be marketed before the trial is finished. While there has been a push to get COVID-19 vaccines on the market quickly, that doesn’t mean important safety protocols are being sidestepped, said Scoles.
"I think that people are getting hung up on it being fast tracked, but we are still following every protocol to the T," she said. "The difference is that every regulatory authority, every laboratory that we work with, are working seven days a week and hours on end. Lab shipments we used to send out maybe monthly are going out daily, so they get the data faster. But every step that is supposed to be followed, or is generally followed, is still being followed, just at a faster pace."
Scoles and her coworkers, all of them residents of either Peoria or Pekin, are excited to potentially help get a COVID-19 vaccine on the market.
"We’ve done work on all kinds of vaccines here ... but the last time I was this excited about it was when we did a vaccine for H1N1. It is always great to advance medicine, but when it is potentially fixing something that is in your own area, it’s always more exciting," said Scoles. "We want our kids to get back to school without masks, and we want our friends’ businesses to succeed. It’s going to be really exciting to be part of a solution, hopefully."
If you are interested in participating in a COVID-19 vaccine trial, call Optimal Research at (309) 672-1910.
Leslie Renken can be reached at 270-8503 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.