As the world anxiously awaits a COVID-19 vaccine, Dr. William Towner and other researchers are working at an unprecedented pace. Towner has been in a principal investigator for roughly two decades — overseeing more than 150 clinical trials…but never anything like this.
"I wanted to help as many people as I could and this is an opportunity to potentially help millions and millions and millions of people, so it’s really exciting," Towner said.
He’s based in Pasadena and says the startup on a typical clinical trials takes months but for COVID-19, it’s been happening in weeks. The Phase 3 trial that Kaiser Permanente joined is funded by Pfizer and is open to all races and ethnicities as long as they are Kaiser members.
"Anyone from 18-85 can participate in this study and there really is a sense of enthusiasm and optimism, that 'Hey, I want to be part of the solution to this problem,'" Towner said.
Eligible patients must also be in good health, not pregnant or planning to become pregnant, not enrolled in any other COVID-19 clinical trials, and have not tested positive for the virus.
The Phase 3 trial is randomized, where half the participants receive the vaccine and the other half — a placebo. Neither the participants nor the clinicians know which is which. Participants receive two injections about three weeks apart. They are also asked to record and report any changes to their health over time and have follow-up visits.
"What we want to look at is do the patients who get the actual vaccine get COVID at a lower rate than those patients who didn’t get the vaccine," Towner said.
He also added that Phase 3 is the big study that really looks at the immune response, and its effectiveness over time.
"And that’s what the FDA will use to determine if the vaccination can be administered to everyone."
Towner believes if all goes well, we should have an answer by the end of the year and be able to vaccinate people soon after that. Meanwhile, Kaiser is still looking for people to sign up.
"The more volunteers we can get, the faster we can get this vaccine and hopefully get back to some semblance of a normal lifestyle."