Here's what we know about Bay Area's 1st coronavirus vaccine trial

It's anticipated that COVID-19 vaccine volunteers will participate through Sutter's East Bay AIDS Center in Oakland, Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and at Bridge HIV San Francisco.
SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- It's been in the works for months and now the Bay Area is beginning its first coronavirus vaccine trial. For the first time, we are able to discuss the details of the local trial. Reporter Kate Larsen spoke one-on-one with the doctors at San Francisco's Department of Public Health who brought the trial to the Bay Area.

The Bay Area has been chosen to participate in one of five national vaccine trials coordinated through Co-VPN - the COVID-19 Prevention Network.

"This is a really pivotal moment for us here in San Francisco and in the Bay Area," said San Francisco's director of public health, Dr. Grant Colfax.

Colfax says Phase 3 trials of AstraZeneca's vaccine, developed by Oxford University, will begin this month, in partnership with UCSF.

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"Really excited that we're taking part in this trial," said Dr. Susan Buchbinder.

San Francisco's participation in the AstraZeneca trial would not be possible without Buchbinder, who is on the Co-VPN executive committee.

"I did bring it here," she said. "It's such a need and it's so exciting to be able to be part of the solution."

Dr. Buchbinder is the director of Bridge HIV and a UCSF professor of medicine and epidemiology. She has spent her entire 32 year career at San Francisco's Department of Public Health working on HIV vaccines and prevention - she's one of the nation's leading experts.

"The COVID vaccine effort is really being built on the back of all of the work that we've done and research in HIV and understanding the immunology of the disease," she said.

"Many of the leading scientists working on COVID vaccines and treatment come from the HIV field," which Dr. Buchbinder explained is why many of the trials are taking place at HIV clinics.

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Out of 30,000 people in the Phase 3 AstraZeneca trial, 1,000 will be in the Bay Area. It's anticipated that 500 volunteers will participate through Sutter's East Bay AIDS Center in Oakland, 250 will participate at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and another 250 will participate at Bridge HIV San Francisco, where Dr. Buchbinder is the trial's principal investigator.

"It's a very promising vaccine, what we know is it's been given to over 5,000 people and appears to be safe. It's been tested in animals, and in non-human primates it seems to protect against COVID disease."

The Phase 3 trial will test for safety, but also the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which uses a weakened form of a cold virus only found in chimpanzees to attack coronavirus.

"What this chimp adenovirus does, is it's a carrier to get into the cells, teach them to make just the smallest part of this protein and train the immune system, so that it says if you ever see anything that looks like this, mark it as foreign and fight it off and kill it."

"We're training the body to recognize one of these spikes," Dr. Buchbinder said while pointing to an image of the protein spikes on the surface of the coronavirus cell.

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She says they want to enroll people who may be getting exposed to COVID-19 at work or in their social lives, since those are the groups who need the vaccine most.

"We give 20,000 people the vaccine and 10,000 people the placebo, and we try to lower everybody's risk as much as we can through counseling, through reminding people about masks and social distancing and hand washing. And then we look to see, does the vaccine further lower risk of getting COVID-19."

Volunteers chosen for the AstraZeneca trial, may end up at the Bridge HIV clinic in San Francisco. Volunteers will go to an exam room, speak to a research associate and similar to the flu shot, get injected in the shoulder with the trial vaccine. Participants will come back a month later for a second injection and then seven follow up appointments over a two year period, with blood work, including antibody testing, at each visit.

"If you are willing and ready to participate, it's a huge contribution and you can be a real hero," said Dr. Colfax, who would like to see specific at-risk Bay Area residents volunteer.

"Encouraging people to volunteer for these trials from communities most affected by COVID-19, including from communities of color, people who are providing health care to people during this very difficult time and other essential workers, as well as people over 65, and those with chronic medical conditions who we know are at high risk for bad outcomes due to COVID-19."

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If the trials go well, SFDPH says the AstraZeneca vaccine could be available early 2021.

If you want to enroll or learn more about the trial, you can go to the Co-VPN website or email covidresearch@sfdph.org

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