Henry Ford Health recruiting volunteers for Moderna COVID-19 trial vaccine

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Henry Ford Health System is recruiting volunteers to receive trial COVID-19 vaccines developed by Moderna.

The Detroit-based health system is one of 90 nationwide and the only site in Michigan to offer the drug during Phase 3, according to a Tuesday statement by the Henry Ford Health System. Researchers hope to enroll 30,000 volunteers across the country to receive the vaccine, which is administered through two injections.

Moderna is developing the vaccine in partnership with the National Institutes for Health. Nationwide, more than 150 coronavirus vaccines are being developed, and 20 of those are closer to or in clinical trials. 

"We are in unprecedented times," said Dr. Marcus Zervos, division chief for infectious disease at Henry Ford Health. "COVID-19 is causing millions of infections, hundreds of thousands of deaths and the vaccine is our best hope at resolving the infection, getting it under control.”

Study participants in the double blind trial will have a 50% chance of receiving a placebo instead of the vaccine, which, unlike other vaccines, does not contain the actual virus, according to the hospital system. 

In this March 16, 2020, file photo, a subject receives a shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine by Moderna for COVID-19 at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle.

Instead, the vaccine contains mRNA, a genetic code that triggers the production of a protein believed to help the immune system produce antibodies to the virus. 

Participants in the trial must be older than 18 and free of illnesses or conditions that compromise the immune system. 

Among those desired for the trial are people at high risk of exposure to the virus, seniors older than 65 years old considered at risk for a severe case of the virus and individuals with "pre-existing medical conditions that are stable at the time of screening." 

Each participant will be paid $1,000 if he or she completes all of the necessary visits. 

People who have had COVID-19 before are not eligible for the study, Zervos said. 

"We are working with various groups to make sure that our inclusion is representative of our patient population and also our community," he said.

People can volunteer at www.henryford.com/ModernaVaccine and, if contacted by the hospital, finish enrollment in Detroit at the Henry Ford Hospital Emergency Department, the seventh floor of the New Center One Building or the employee health clinic at the HAP building.

Participants will be given two shots about 28 days apart, visit the enrollment center about seven times and talk to study organizers about once a month for two years. 

Researchers will monitor individuals for COVID-19 symptoms or the antibodies the vaccine strives to produce. 

"If a participant is diagnosed with COVID-19 during their time in the study, the study team will provide the highest level of care," the hospital system said in a statement.

The volunteer recruitment comes as President Donald Trump is again pushing the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as an effective treatment. While several studies have found it to be ineffective, a Henry Ford Health study released in early July found the drug “significantly” decreased the death rate of patients involved in the analysis.

Zervos, who helped lead the Henry Ford Health study, urged more research to see if hydroxychloroquine works on COVID-19.

More than 600 people participated in the first two phases of the Moderna vaccine trial. The first phase determined the drug to be safe and the second phase showed the body produced antibodies in response to the vaccine. 

In the third phase, researchers will discern whether the antibodies successfully prevent people from getting the virus. 

Side effects experienced by participants so far include a sore arm, redness or a short-lived low-grade fever, Zervos said.