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Quest For COVID-19 Vaccine Enters Final Phase At Minnesota's Allina Health

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The quest for a COVID-19 vaccine is entering the final phase at Minnesota's Allina Health.  It's one of just five vaccine studies to make it this far, worldwide.

WCCO walked through the process and explains what it takes to participate.

"It is one of the most pivotal and important trials of the century," Dr. Vani Nilakantan said.

Research teams at Allina Health are racing to find solutions to a global pandemic: from Hydroxychloroquine and Remdesivir trials, to the hope of a vaccine moving to its final phase.

"We will try to enroll as many participants as we can within this next two to three-month period," Dr. Nilakantan said.

Doctor Nilakantan got the green light last month to move forward on Johnson and Johnson's ENSEMBLE study.

Someone in the clinical trial got sick.  But, it turned out to be from something else -- allowing their work to continue.

"Study participants will gather first in this social distanced room and get an explanation of what will happen next by video."

"Everything we can is going to be recorded so there will be little speaking we're asking the subjects to not talk at all."

The air exchange has been changed and barriers put up to separate.  Participants will then complete a blood draw and nasal swab before being given one dose of the vaccine.  Eight telehealth visits will follow over the next two years.

Still, whether it works or not will not be a simple question to answer.

"We need to know does it work in different populations differently? Does it prevent only severe disease? We don't care so much about not so severe disease it's the severe disease we care about the most," Dr. Frank Rhame said.

Allina's Phillip's Eye Institute is one of 215 sites around the world to test this particular vaccine.  The only one the state and possibly just months away from real promise.

Allina hopes to recruit 500 participants for the vaccine trial here.

"It's amazingly fast to have gotten this far this fast," Dr. Rhame said.

Sixty thousand people will be a part of the same clinical trial around the world.

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