Five Defense Department medical facilities have been named to participate in research for the newest COVID-19 vaccine candidate to enter Phase III clinical trials.
The Pentagon announced Thursday that the military hospitals will support testing of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca, which announced Aug. 31 that it was beginning widespread testing after receiving favorable results from efficacy and safety research.
According to the DoD, military beneficiaries who volunteer through Coronavirus Prevention Network and are selected can participate at the eligible facility nearest them if they enter the hospital's code when they fill out their application.
The participating military treatment facilities, along with their codes, are:
- Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMSD)
- Brooke Army Medical Center, San Antonio (BAMC)
- Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, San Antonio (WHASC)
- Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland (WRMC)
- Fort Belvoir Community Hospital (FBCH)
AstraZeneca is looking to recruit 30,000 volunteers nationwide for the trial, which will examine the vaccine's effectiveness. The inoculation -- or a placebo -- will be used only on volunteers, according to DoD officials.
The AstraZeneca vaccine joins two from Moderna Therapeutics and Pfizer Inc. already in the third phase of research, which tests the immunizations for effectiveness.
In previous phases of the research, each candidate has shown that it generates an immune response and has had few safety safety concerns.
The Defense Department is playing a major role in Operation Warp Speed, the name given to the public-private partnership to develop and deliver 200 million doses of an effective COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the year.
DoD scientists have played a role in vaccine development and the department is heavily involved in managing the contracts and logistics needed to develop and distribute immunizations and supplies.
"The Department of Defense continues to play a key role in the development of a potential COVID-19 vaccine," said Tom McCaffery, assistant secretary of defense for Health Affairs. "Now that vaccines have passed the first phases of testing for safety, dosing and response, we are ready to move into the next phase where volunteers are needed to join large clinical studies."
AstraZeneca researchers are hoping to enroll adult volunteers at 80 sites across the U.S. to evaluate its vaccine, which was developed by the Jenner Institute at Oxford University and the Oxford Vaccine group. The DNA-based vaccine is designed to induce an immune response by introducing the spike protein found on the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus -- the virus that causes COVID-19 -- to a patient.
A similar vaccine is being developed by Johnson & Johnson and is expected to enter Phase III trials this month.
Moderna and Pfizer's candidates employ a never-before-used mechanism to induce an immune response, relying on messenger RNA to instruct a patient's cells to make their own spike SARS-CoV-2 proteins to generate an immune response.
Other candidates that use the more traditional vaccine method -- using the inactivated virus to elicit an immune response -- are being tested by Merck and Sinovac Biotech. GlaxoSmithKline and its partners, along with Eli Lilli and its partners, are developing immunizations based on antibodies.
The Defense Department is encouraging beneficiaries with access to military health facilities to consider volunteering for the trials. According to the DoD, researchers are hoping to attract volunteers who may be at increased risk of contracting COVID-19, such as those in essential jobs; who live in populated residential environments such as dorms, nursing homes or correctional facilities; or are members of communities hard-hit by the pandemic, including older persons; those with underlying health conditions; and certain ethnic groups such as African Americans, Hispanics or Native Americans.
The National Academies of Sciences on Tuesday released a draft proposal on vaccine distribution in the U.S., recommending that those at highest risk for contracting the coronavirus be among the first to get a viable vaccine, including health care workers and first responders and vulnerable populations such as the elderly, those at high risk because of existing health conditions and frontline workers like school personnel and those who work in public transportation.
The second tier of people would include health workers not directly involved in patient care, those who face challenges accessing quality care, deployed military personnel participating in operations, police and fire personnel, Transportation Security Administration and border personnel, and those who can't remain socially distanced in their home or work environments.
The third group would be young adults, children and workers in service and hospitality industries, followed by all others.
The National Academy of Sciences is taking public input on its proposal before developing its final recommendation, which will be sent to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention for consideration. The deadline for public comment is Friday.
Federal officials say they remain committed to having a vaccine by the end of the year, with enough doses to be delivered by January 2021. States are currently developing plans for distributing and administering the vaccines, CDC Director Robert Redfield said Friday.
As of Wednesday, 38,424 U.S. service members have tested positive for COVID-19 and seven have died.
Worldwide, more than 26 million people have contracted the coronavirus and 864,801 have died, including 186,293 in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University.