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Coronavirus vaccine trial underway in Rochester

Rochester Regional Health

Researchers in Rochester have begun a trial of a potential vaccine against the novel coronavirus. Phase one of the three-phase trial is testing the vaccine on about 40 people, said Dr. Edward Walsh, the infectious disease physician who's leading the trial.

One of those test subjects is Becky Timmons, who got her first dose of the vaccine at Rochester General Hospital on Thursday.

“I found out about the study I think the day that it came out on the news,” she said. Rochester Regional Health and the University of Rochester Medical Center made a joint announcement last month asking for study participants.

“I called immediately,” Timmons said. “I have a 96-year-old grandfather, and I have not been able to hug him in three months, and neither has anyone else.”

Timmons said she hoped her participation in the trial would help researchers develop a vaccine that would protect her grandfather and other people from COVID-19.

After Timmons called, researchers checked that she was in good health, had not already had the novel coronavirus, and was unlikely to be infected during the course of the trial.

Phase one of a vaccine trial does not test the drug’s effectiveness -- researchers are looking only for whether the vaccine is safe, said Walsh. That means Timmons won’t be exposed to the virus as part of the study.

Timmons said knowing that the trial does not require infection helped her reassure some friends and family who were worried about her decision to participate.

“Some were surprised, I think, until I explained to them exactly how this works,” she said. “Some were concerned, but I think most of them have been very supportive. I’ve gotten a lot of thank-yous for putting myself out there for science.”

Credit Max Schulte / WXXI News
Dr. Edward Walsh is leading the Rochester trial of a potential vaccine against the coronavirus.

Timmons will keep a log of any symptoms that could be linked to the first dose of the vaccine. She’ll take her temperature daily and note any redness or swelling around the injection site.

The shot itself didn’t hurt much, she said. “It felt the same as a flu shot.”

Phase two of the trial will likely start next month, Walsh said, with more participants.

After that, the timeline gets hazier as the trial moves toward evaluating whether the vaccine actually works against the novel coronavirus.

“There is a bit of urgency,” Walsh said. “We have this window of time when the vast majority of people, not just in the U.S., but elsewhere, have not yet become infected.”

Brett is the health reporter and a producer at WXXI News. He has a master’s degree from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism and before landing at WXXI, he was an intern at WNYC and with Ian Urbina of the New York Times. He also produced freelance reporting work focused on health and science in New York City. Brett grew up in Bremerton, Washington, and holds a bachelor’s degree from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.
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