Hundreds of volunteers participating in COVID-19 vaccine trial at HMG’s Kingsport and Bristol sites

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KINGSPORT, Tenn. (WJHL)- A wide-ranging group of volunteers from ages 18 to 85 have joined a COVID-19 vaccine trial at Holston Medical Group’s Kingsport and Bristol sites.

HMG’s locations are part of a global vaccine study sponsored by Pfizer, which involves over 30,000 participants. Nearly 400 are involved through HMG. Their study began in August, and participant recruitment ended in September.

Dr. David Morin, director of research for HMG, said the enthusiasm to volunteer was ‘tremendous.’ He said all participants had to be medically stable, but some have co-morbidities in order to accurately reflect society in the study.

“We had a lot of first responders. We had many physicians, firefighters, policemen. We had members of the community join the study. It’s going very well,” he said.

The Phase Three study of the vaccine is conducted to test its safety and efficiency. Half the participants recieved the active vaccine. The other half recieved a saltwater injection placebo. Neither the patients nor researchers in the double blind study know who got what.

“They’re going to compare the groups who got COVID – were there fewer cases of COVID in patients who got the active vaccine compared to the placebo? And that’s how they’ll determine if the medication is effective,” said Dr. Morin.

Volunteers are expected to keep a diary monitoring their symptoms throughout the study – which will last for two years. But researchers hope to get a signal on the vaccine’s effectiveness before that.

Dr. Morin says he knows vaccines are being politicized. But when trying to develop one to save lives, he said the researchers can’t presume a timeline for when it will be ready.

“No vaccine is going to be approved unless it has proven to be safe and effective,” he said.

Multiple trials are happening around the world for different possible COVID-19 vaccines. The pausing of some other pharmaceutical company’s studies in recent weeks due to adverse reactions has drawn headlines. Dr. Morin said these actions should give the public confidence that vaccine safety is taken seriously.

“I think the more they understand about the process, the more comfortable they should feel,” he said.

Even after a vaccine is approved for the public, it will still continue to be studied as long as it’s used.

Dr. Morin said the vaccine development research is especially important as case numbers are on the rise in Sullivan County.

“Our lives have been so consumed by this [virus], turned upside down,” he said. “And in some cases, many lives have ended and serious illnesses occur. There’s still a potential for this disease to continue. That’s where I think a vaccine is so important to begin to get control of that, and begin to get our lives back.”

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