A COVID-19 vaccine trial is underway in Canberra, with dozens of volunteers already injected with the potential immunisation against coronavirus.
About 80 Canberra volunteers are expected to receive the vaccine, which has been developed by US company Novavax.
The Canberra volunteers are among 750 across Australia taking part in the phase two trial, which also includes another 750 volunteers in the US.
The Novavax vaccine is one of four being trialled in Australia, and one of 120 being developed across the globe.
The ACT has no known active coronavirus cases, and it has been more than 50 days since the last case was recorded.
Research group Paratus Clinical is conducting the Canberra trial on behalf of Novavax.
Paratus Clinical’s Matt Clacy said the vaccine had so far been “extremely well tolerated”.
“There’s been no serious adverse events or any issues at all to date for this particular vaccine,” he said.
“But it is still in the trial process, it is still experimental, and that’s why we’re doing it to make sure it is safe.”
Mr Clacy said there were two parts to the vaccine.
“One is a small section of the genetic sequencing of the COVID virus,” he said.
“So, you don’t receive an activated virus itself, you actually just get a small part of it so the body can recognise and hopefully build an immune response to that.
“The second part is something called Matrix M, which is designed to give a boosted immune response, to give a helping hand to the actual vaccine itself.”
Canberrans keen to take part
Mr Clacy said there had been strong interest in the Canberra trial, with 49 potential volunteers screened so far.
“We’ve found Canberrans very interested in the detail and the science behind what’s going on,” he said.
He said Paratus Clinical did not have to go far from its Bruce clinic to find some of the volunteers, with doctors at the next door Ochre Health GP practice putting their hands up.
One of them is John Hall, Ochre Health’s director of medical services and president of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia.
“The reason I thought it was important to be part of this trial is it’s a community service, it’s a good thing to be doing,” Dr Hall said.
“We need volunteers – if people don’t put themselves out there and volunteer for this process around the world, then we’re not going to find the solution.”
Dr Hall said he had no reservations going into the trial.
“This is a really high-level technical vaccine, the technology they’re using is traditionally very safe,” he said.
“The chance of it causing major dramas or causing serious adverse reactions is very low.”
Volunteers are medically assessed and screened to ensure they are healthy to take part in the trial before receiving their first vaccine.
They will then receive two further shots over six months and have regular blood tests.
“We also have to keep a personal diary of symptoms we might be getting in terms of reactions to the vaccine and that that type of thing,” Dr Hall said.
Up to 30 more volunteers are needed for the trial, and any healthy Canberrans aged 18 to 84 have been invited to put their hands up.
“There’s zero risk of [COVID-19] infection for the individual involved, and zero risk for their family and work colleagues,” Mr Clacy said.
“You continue to go about your daily life, you go to work as normal.”
The interim results of the phase two trial are expected by the end of the year.
Whether or not the Novavax vaccine proves successful, Dr Hall is confident a safe, effective vaccine will eventually be developed.
“This is intense, it’s a fast race towards a solution, because of the devastating effects of COVID-19,” he said.
While the ACT government is not involved in the trial, Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said she was pleased Canberrans were playing their part in the global effort to find a vaccine.
“It’s great to see Canberrans stepping up to participate in the trial,” she said.
“I’d really encourage anyone who is interested to get in touch with the company and see what it takes to participate in a vaccine trial and be part of this global solution to what really is a global problem.”