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As COVID Vaccine Trials Set To Start In Minnesota, Some Experts Doubt Safe Drug Will Be Ready By November

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The federal government says we could have a COVID-19 vaccine in about eight weeks, but some Minnesotans could get one as soon as Thursday.

HealthPartners is doing a local, clinical trial with Oxford University and drug maker AstraZeneca.

In a letter sent to all 50 states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells health officials to prepare for a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as November.

WCCO spoke Wednesday with Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

"We have to keep concentrating on the science," Osterholm said.

He is not convinced that a safe vaccine by November is likely.

"I think we might have data by the end of this year that could warrant the licensing of a safe and effective vaccine at least for some groups," Osterholm said. "Surely it won't be for the general population. I can't imagine that for at least until next year."

Osterholm says more data is needed on the safety and effectiveness of developing vaccines -- and some of that data will come from Minnesota.

Dr. Zeke McKinney is a HealthPartners institute clinical investigator who is helping to lead the local trial.

"I know there's been a huge interest already," McKinney said.

Starting Thursday, HealthPartners will test a vaccine on at least 1,500 people, though they can include more if there's interest. Two-thirds will get the vaccine, while the other third will receive a placebo. And it's a double-blind study, so doctors and patients won't know who got the real thing.

"Optimally, from a research perspective, we want to focus on those with higher risk of exposure or higher risk of likely developing severe disease if they do get a COVID-19 infection," McKinney said. "I hear people out in the community asking, 'What can I do to help?' And I would say, 'Hey, this is actually a very direct way in which you can help.'"

Aside from high-risk people and front-line essential workers, researchers also want diversity in their pool -- though some warn there's a reason the trial is happening here.

"These companies didn't come here by accident. They came here because they recognized that we may actually be seeing a big increase in cases over the days ahead," Osterholm said. "Let the vaccines come as soon as they can, but not before their time."

Trial participants will have about 10 visits over two years. Researchers say there's about a 0% chance of contracting the virus from taking the trial vaccine.

Click here for more information on the vaccine study.

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