In early July, the National Institutes of Health launched a clinical trials network through which it hoped to enroll thousands of volunteers to test potential COVID-19 vaccines. Just a week or so later, more than 107,000 people had signed up. That's a number USA Today says will "go a long way" toward getting at least 30,000 volunteers for each of four companies set to start the third phase of clinical trials in the early fall. Those four companies: Moderna, AstraZeneca, Inovio, and Pfizer/BioNTech. Dr. Anthony Fauci says this volunteer surge has made him "optimistic" about conducting the trials sooner rather than later. "This is what we call medical heroes," Sarah Hasan, a recruiter for a Houston clinic, tells KHOU. "The interest we're seeing right now is on a whole different level." Volunteers go through a rigorous application procedure, including signing a consent form that can be up to 100 pages long.
Half of the participants will receive the potential vaccine, while the other half will get a placebo—another reason plenty of volunteers are needed. "A lot of people drop out right there," UC San Francisco epidemiology professor Robert Hiatt tells USA Today. "They say, 'No, I don't want it if I don't get the vaccine." For those who fear a vaccine may be rushed, a Harvard public health professor tries to ease those concerns. "The guidelines for these trials are really clear," says immunologist Barry Bloom. "They will be scientifically rigorous and there are no shortcuts." For example, one of the requirements before a clinical trial can move on to phase 3 is that the testing has to go well in animal trials. While finding volunteers for such a large clinical trial is typically a monthslong endeavor, Hiatt sees a difference this time: "The altruistic aspect of this is appealing. People want to be part of the cure." (Oxford reported promising early results Monday.)