COVID-19 vaccine trials begin in hard-hit South Texas border communities

Coronavirus

'Divine guidance' needed for South Texas, mayor says

FILE – This March 16, 2020 file photo shows vials used by pharmacists to prepare syringes used on the first day of a first-stage safety study clinical trial of the potential vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. The world’s biggest COVID-19 vaccine test got underway Monday, July 27 with the first of 30,000 planned volunteers. The experimental vaccine is made by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., and it’s one of several candidates in the final stretch of the global vaccine race. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Hispanics living along the border in South Texas are among communities that will participate in human clinical trials for a COVID-19 vaccine that began Monday.

The South Texas cities of McAllen and Laredo are among 89 cities nationwide that are taking part in these Phase 3 human clinical trials by the pharmaceutical company Moderna Inc., U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, told media Monday.

South Texas communities are among the hardest-hit by COVID-19 in the state and nation right now.

The importance of including these border cities is because of the high Hispanic population and to better study how a potential COVID-19 vaccine would affect this minority group, Cuellar said. It’s also an opportunity to study a population that has a high number of people suffering from hypertension and diabetes.

Cuellar said on Thursday he was on a conference call with Dr. Anthony Facui, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and an adviser to President Donald Trump on the coronavirus pandemic, to ensure that the border region is included in the trials, and also to discuss “equitable disbursements of the vaccines,” when vaccines are finally available to the public.

“I wanted to make sure we included Hispanic populations, as you know they have long been under-represented in medical research,” Cuellar said on a video conference call Monday morning with media. “This is to make sure that the Hispanic populations especially along the border is covered as they do this test.”

Studying patients, particularly minority patients with diabetes, is important during these trials, Fauci said. “The virus itself when you get infected has a much more damaging affect on people who have underling conditions and diabetes is premier among them,” Fauci told Cuellar.

Fauci said the federal government “is bankrolling” the trials and has “guaranteed purchase agreements” from the various pharmaceutical companies they are working with so that “tens of millions of doses” will be ready in early 2021 and millions more by the end of 2021. “But they’re not going to arrive on the first day. So we’re going to try to get a prioritization that reflects the needs of those who can benefit most,” he said.

A month ago, Moderna announced that Laredo would be participating in the clinical trials but it was not known then that McAllen also would be included.

The Phase 3 study begins today and the 30,000 participants who are enrolled will each be given two muscular injections spaced 28 days apart. The study, called the COVE (Coronavirus Efficacy) study, is being conducted in collaboration with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Moderna said it “remains on track” in its research and development and predicts delivery of 500 million and possibly 1 billion doses of the vaccine in 2021.

Laredo Health Authority Dr. Victor Treviño speaks to media during a conference call on Monday, July 27, 2020.

Laredo Health Authority Dr. Victor Treviño said the community is excited to participate in the studies. “Vaccine trials are important and they make us see what vaccines would be beneficial for our communities in the prevention of COVID-19,” Treviño said on Monday during a media conference call.

Laredo on Sunday reported seven more deaths from coronavirus, bringing the total to 114 since the pandemic began in the town of 250,000 across the Rio Grande from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. There are currently 162 people hospitalized and local officials have converted a Red Roof Inn as a step-down facility for non-intensive care COVID-19 patients, where currently three patients are housed, Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz said.

“The message isn’t too pleasant. The numbers aren’t letting up,” Saenz said. “It is important that we ask and pray for divine guidance that this pandemic be lifted so we can get some relief.”

The message isn’t too pleasant. The numbers aren’t letting up.”

Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz

McAllen is in Hidalgo County, which has had over 15,153 cases of COVID-19 and 456 deaths, including 23 deaths Friday. The numbers, however, could actually be much higher as Hidalgo County officials have not reported coronavirus cases or fatalities since Friday because the county was struck this weekend by Hurricane Hanna.

Laguna Clinical Research Associates is conducting the trials in Laredo. Centex Studies Inc., is conducting the trials in McAllen. Participation is still available and more information can be found here. Adults may register at this link.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.

Visit the BorderReport.com homepage for the latest exclusive stories and breaking news about issues along the United States-Mexico border.

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