(HONOLULU) KHON2 — As we’ve been told, some of the best ways to fight the spread of COVID-19 are by keeping your distance from others, wearing a mask, and washing your hands.

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But what if you want to do more? A global study for a vaccine is taking place here in the islands and is looking for participants.

Clinical trials for Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine have shown some success. With trials now in their third phase, about 12,000 of the required 30,000 people required for the trial have signed-up so far.

The vaccine is being studied with the help of East-West Medical Research Institute in Honolulu. It is called BNT162b2, and uses mRNA (messenger RNA) to teach the immune system how to produce antibodies that target COVID-19.

“Response that’s been shown in the prior trials done with this vaccine has shown as much as a four times increase as opposed to people who have actually been exposed to the virus,” East-West Medical Research Institute Manager Ronald Ruhaak said.

The antibodies go after the signature prominent spike proteins of the virus.

“Everybody has seen the pictures of the virus, to teach your immune system to recognize these and disable it,” Ruhaak said. “This is all done without the virus being introduced into your system.”

As far as safety goes, Ruhaak adds that an mRNA vaccine cannot infect participants with COVID-19.

“This is all done without the virus being introduced into your system,” emphasized Ruhaak. “It’s not like other vaccines which pieces of the virus or inactivated parts of the virus are introduced, there’s no chance of actually getting COVID-19 from receiving this vaccine.”

Side effects have been observed in less than 20% of participants in phases one and two, with mostly soreness or a slight fever. After taking their first dose last week, Hawaii residents Ryan Ozawa and his daughter Kate haven’t experienced any side effects.

“They gave us an app,” Kate said. “You log onto it every single week. It gives you a list of symptoms of COVID and asks if you have any of them. If you say ‘no,’ they say ‘OK fine. Have a good day see you next week.'”

Participants will get two doses of either the vaccine or a placebo three weeks apart. They will then be checked for antibody levels every six months for up to two years. Both researchers and participants are blinded to which random half gets administered a vaccine, and which gets a placebo.

“There’s always the fear that they’re rushing faster than they should but I have a great deal of trust in the double blind process and I know they’re going to do a good job.” Ryan said.

For Kate, it’s a savored chance to actively fight against COVID-19.

“I am personally really happy that I can finally do something after sitting in my house for months. I’m glad I can finally do something to help,” Kate said.

Potential participants can visit www.eastwestresearch.com to learn more about local
enrollment criteria.

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