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US researchers have begun the first set of coronavirus vaccine clinical tests

'Everyone wants to do what they can in this emergency'

David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

U.S. researchers have started the initial phases of clinical safety testing for a potential coronavirus vaccine, marking the beginning of a long, multistep process.

According to the Associated Press, which first reported the story, the clinical trial of healthy adults began Monday in hard-hit Washington state:

With a careful jab in a healthy volunteer's arm, scientists at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Research Institute in Seattle begin an anxiously awaited first-stage study of a potential COVID-19 vaccine developed in record time after the new virus exploded from China and fanned across the globe.

"We're team coronavirus now," Kaiser Permanente study leader Dr. Lisa Jackson said on the eve of the experiment. "Everyone wants to do what they can in this emergency."

The Associated Press observed as the study's first participant, an operations manager at a small tech company, received the injection inside an exam room. Three others were next in line for a test that will ultimately give 45 volunteers two doses, a month apart.

One of the study participants, a 43-year-old woman from Seattle, told the outlet that taking part in the trial was "an amazing opportunity for me to do something," in response to the global outbreak.

A Monday statement from the National Institutes for Health explained that the vaccine being tested is called mRNA-1273 and that it was developed by scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases "and their collaborators at the biotechnology company Moderna, Inc.," which is based in Massachusetts.

"The investigational vaccine was developed using a genetic platform called mRNA (messenger RNA)," NIH says. "The investigational vaccine directs the body's cells to express a virus protein that it is hoped will elicit a robust immune response. The mRNA-1273 vaccine has shown promise in animal models, and this is the first trial to examine it in humans."

While Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has previously said that the whole process of getting a vaccine out for public consumption "is going to take a year, a year and a half, at least," according to Business Insider, he praised Monday's development as a key step in the right direction.

"Finding a safe and effective vaccine to prevent infection with [coronavirus] is an urgent public health priority," Fauci said in a written statement Monday. "This Phase 1 study, launched in record speed, is an important first step toward achieving that goal."

The Associated Press also pointed out that "dozens" of other research groups around the world are also working to develop a vaccine and that trials for another candidate developed by Inovio Pharmaceuticals, is expected to begin a separate safety study in multiple countries next month.

In its own statement about Monday's news, Moderna said that it's already looking ahead and preparing for the next steps of the clinical trial process.

"In order to continue to progress this potential vaccine during the the ongoing global public health emergency, Moderna intends to work with the FDA and other government and non-government organizations to be ready for a Phase 2 and any subsequent trials, which are anticipated to include a larger number of subjects and which will seek to generate additional safety and immunogenicity data," the company said in a news release about the trials. "Manufacture of the mRNA-1273 material for the potential Phase 2 trial, which could begin in a few months, is underway."

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