The U.S. government is planning to fund three 30,000-subject phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trials starting this month, and Pfizer is recruiting for its own similarly large vaccine trial. "Quickly lining up all the subjects for so many studies at the same time poses several challenges," The Wall Street Journal reports. "We not only have to find the number of volunteers," National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins explained, "but they need to be in an area where the virus is currently spreading, otherwise you learn nothing about the effectiveness of the vaccine."
The volunteers also need to be healthy and include sufficient high-risk groups that regulators can be sure the vaccines will be safe and effective in the broader population. That means COVID-19 hotspots are seen as fertile ground for recruiting, the Journal reports:
Among the areas being targeted in the U.S. and outside the country, industry officials say, are places where people generally aren't following preventive measures like social distancing or wearing masks. Some testing sites for Pfizer's vaccine trial will be in states that have seen recent increases in infections, such as Florida, Arizona, and Texas, Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla said during a recent online event hosted by the Milken Institute. [The Wall Street Journal]
The need to quickly procure volunteers that meet these criteria has effectively created competition between vaccine trials. Vaccine developers and recruitment organizations are using novel techniques to find such volunteers, including working with churches and community groups, trawling testing centers and pharmacies, using algorithms, and asking employees to reach out to friends and family.
There are about 150 COVID-19 vaccines under development, and the three large late-stage trials being funded by the U.S. government this summer are for Moderna's vaccine candidate, the U.S. trial of a drug developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca that's already being tested in Britain, and Johnson & Johnson's vaccine effort.