This is the first large-scale U.S. clinical trial of a coronavirus vaccine.

UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital is gearing up to take part in a groundbreaking trial of an experimental vaccine for COVID-19, with 1,000 Coloradans who are most at-risk from coronavirus being asked to take part. The trial, which is part of a larger 30,000-patient, nationwide study, will begin this summer. 

Researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and UCHealth on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus will spend the next two months recruiting qualified patients throughout Colorado for the trial. The trial will be targeting participants who are most at-risk of serious complications from COVID-19, as well as those that are on the frontlines of the pandemic. UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital is the only hospital in Colorado for this study.

“Our site here at University of Colorado Hospital is part of a nationwide network called the COVID Prevention Network, which is set up so that it has a cohort of sites that are available to sequentially enroll into multiple vaccine studies,” said Dr. Thomas Campbell, an infectious disease physician at the CU School of Medicine and University of Colorado Hospital. “If it works, the Moderna vaccine could be a real game-changer for the pandemic.”

The reason this vaccine is different than most has to do with its focus. Unlike most vaccines that expose patients to a small dose of a virus in hopes to build antibodies, this vaccine focuses on the genetic code of coronavirus, particularly its spike protein. Those proteins, which give the virus its crown shape, are critical to replication, as they attach to cells in the body and cause infection. 

This vaccine, which doesn't expose the recipient to the actual virus, would encourage antibodies to build against that protein. 

The researchers are cautiously optimistic, but warn that setbacks are always possible in trials like these. 

“I’m elated by the pace of progress. It’s really unheard of for any viral infection to have a vaccine progress at this rate,” Campbell said. “It’s a great testament to what can be done when people put their minds to it and work together. I’m certainly hopeful that we’ll have success, but the sad reality is that most vaccine candidates don’t turn out to be successful so we have to be prepared for failures, as well.”

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