More border Hispanics added to COVID-19 vaccine human trials in South Texas

Coronavirus

Rural county could have additional 70 deaths confirmed as coronavirus-related

Nurse Kathe Olmstead, right, gives volunteer Melissa Harting, of Harpersville, N.Y. an injection as the world’s biggest study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway Monday, July 27, 2020, in Binghamton, N.Y. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — In order to add more Hispanics to human trial testing currently going on for a COVID-19 vaccine, an additional 500 participants have been added to the trial in South Texas.

Dr. Antonio Falcon

Starr County Health Authority Dr. Antonio Falcon said he was informed on Monday that “on Stage 3 immunization studies they’re going to add 500 people in Starr and Hidalgo counties to receive the immunizations early.”

Falcon told media during a Zoom conference call Tuesday morning that he was not sure which company is providing the human trials. Currently, the pharmaceutical company Moderna Inc., is operating Stage 3 immunization studies in Hidalgo and Webb counties in South Texas.

The South Texas cities of McAllen in Hidalgo County and Laredo in Webb County are among 89 nationwide that are taking part in the Moderna trials, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, told Border Report late last month. However, this is the first time that Starr County residents have been mentioned in the trials.

South Texas for the past month has been one of the hardest hit regions in the nation for coronavirus, and Falcon said admitting 500 additional participants will allow more minorities to be studied.

Starr County, with a population of just 61,000 residents, has had 22 deaths and 2,786 cases. On Monday, there were 16 patients hospitalized including 15 in the Starr County Memorial Hospital ICU. Falcon said an additional 70 deaths could also be ruled as coronavirus and are awaiting notification from state medical authorities.

“We’re a hotspot,” Falcon said. “They needed to include more Hispanics in the study.”

Falcon, who is a physician, recently took over as the lead health authority for Starr County after Dr. Jose Vazquez quit on Aug. 10 after county commissioners refused to approve a substantial raise for him. Vazquez was making $600 per month and Starr County Judge Eloy Vera had proposed a salary of $10,000 per month.

The Phase 3 Moderna studies began July 27 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.

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

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