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Fenway Institute Concludes AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine Trial Recruitment

On January 15, The Fenway Institute concluded recruitment for the Phase 3 clinical trial of the efficacy of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

Over the course of 10 weeks, our study team recruited 214 participants. Trial participants were 18 or over and came from a wide range of racial and ethnic backgrounds. Participants included people living with HIV and people at increased risk of infection from the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

“AstraZeneca has the potential to be the most widely used COVID-19 vaccine in the world,” said Dr. Kenneth Mayer, Medical Research Director and Co-Chair of The Fenway Institute. “The NIH-funded vaccine study that Fenway has been a part of will be reviewed by the FDA for emergency use authorization in the U.S. We will continue to follow study participants for two years to track vaccine efficacy and duration.”

While the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines that are currently being administered around the world are highly effective, they are quite expensive to manufacturer and require specific ultra-cold, thermal storage and transportation conditions. This has thus far limited where the vaccines can be sent and administered, meaning that rural locations and developing nations that lack the needed storage facilities have not been able to begin vaccinations.

The AstraZeneca vaccine has the potential to be a key to ending the COVID-19 pandemic on a global scale. It follows an existing vaccine model by generating immune responses against the SARS-CoV-2 viral spike protein to train the immune system to attack that virus. This vaccine is also less expensive to manufacturer than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines.

Most importantly, the AstraZeneca vaccine can be kept for longer periods of time using normal refrigeration methods, as opposed to specialized deep freeze conditions. This greatly expands the areas where the vaccine can be shipped and stored. One such area is India, where the AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved for emergency use. The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines, is poised to begin producing AstraZeneca vaccines.

A new, highly infectious strain of COVID-19 has appeared in recent weeks, raising concerns about the existing vaccines’ abilities to protect against this mutation. “Initial laboratory data is very reassuring,” said Dr. Mayer. “While this strain seems to be more easily transmitted, it doesn’t seem that the spike proteins that the vaccines have been able to block are any different in this mutation.”

Even while the vaccine rollouts are underway, it is critical to continue the recommended COVID-19 precautions of social distancing, mask wearing, and hand hygiene. As Dr. Mayer explained, this will not only keep people safe from current virus strains, but also help prevent the creation of new strains in the future.

“If we can slow down the spread of COVID-19 through public health measures, and we can speed up vaccinations as quickly as possible, the virus will have fewer people to infect and fewer opportunities to mutate,” he said.

Here at Fenway Health, we are incredibly grateful and humbled to have been a part of this life-saving research through the NIH’s COVID-19 Prevention Network. We’d like to offer a sincere thank you to all our study team members who worked so hard to make this research possible, and to all our study participants who volunteered to be a part of medical history. Because of you, we are one step closer to ending this pandemic.

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