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Final testing stage for potential coronavirus vaccine set to begin in July

Final testing stage for potential coronavirus vaccine set to begin in July
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The final testing stage for a potential coronavirus vaccine developed by Moderna is set to begin in July, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) confirmed to The Hill on Wednesday.

John Mascola, the director of the vaccine research center at NIAID, told The Wall Street Journal that the trials will involve about 30,000 people at more than 50 sites, which will mostly be within the U.S.   

The third phase of testing for potential vaccines developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca will begin in August while the last trials for one developed by Johnson & Johnson will start in September, NIAID confirmed to The Hill.

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NIAID noted in its statement that the timelines are estimated and starting the third phase of trials depends on "several factors," including approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

The testing, which will be funded by the federal government, is designed to determine each vaccine’s safety and effectiveness. A vaccine would be considered successful if those who take it contract the virus and develop COVID-19 at lower rates than those who take a placebo.

A Moderna spokesman confirmed to the Journal the plan for July’s trials. An AstraZeneca spokeswoman told the newspaper that the company’s contract with a U.S. agency would back a large study, but couldn’t confirm a start date.

Johnson & Johnson release announced Wednesday that the company's "Phase 1/2a" human clinical trials for a coronavirus vaccine will begin in the second half of July, instead of September.

The company said it is "in discussions" with the NIAID to start the third phase of trials "ahead of its original schedule, pending outcome of Phase 1 studies and approval of regulators."  

Researchers can only begin the third phase of trials once they have enough evidence from earlier tests that the vaccines are safe and spark an immune response, Larry Corey, a vaccine and infectious disease specialist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, told the Journal. 

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A potential vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE, which will not be a part of the federal testing program, could separately begin its third phase of testing as early as July, an unidentified source told the Journal.  A Pfizer spokeswoman told The Hill that the company is on track to start the next phase of clinical studies this summer.

Public health officials have emphasized the need for at least one vaccine that could prevent infections or at least lessen the severity of COVID-19 in order for Americans to resume normal activities.

Updated: 4:25 p.m.