500 Hawaii volunteers participate in COVID-19 vaccine trial

Updated: Oct. 20, 2020 at 5:05 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - In the race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, Pfizer says it could know by the end of the month if its immunization protects people from the coronavirus.

The trial kicked off in July and includes about 40,000 volunteers worldwide.

More than 500 of them are in Hawaii.

Ryan Ozawa and his adult daughter, Kate, are among those who participated in the trial.

“Trying to make a difference is something she’s always tried to do,” said Ryan Ozawa, of his daughter.

When Kate Ozawa learned the East-West Medical Research Institute was looking for volunteers to take part in phase three of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine trial, she was all in.

“This was a chance to finally be able to not just be sitting here at my house. I would actively be contributing to research,” she said.

The pair got their first shots in August. Three weeks later, they went back for a booster.

Ryan Ozawa said one day he did feel a little queasy.

But other than that, neither of them have any side effects.

Ronald Ruhaak, research manager at the East-West Medical Research Institute, says of the 525 volunteers participating locally half were injected with the real vaccine.

The other half got a placebo.

“This trial has enrolled faster than any I’ve ever been apart of. And I’ve been doing trials for about 20 years,” he said.

Volunteers in Hawaii’s study are as young as 16. One of the oldest is 87.

Ruhaak says in this phase, scientists are honing in on two things: Does the vaccine make people immune to the coronavirus? And how long does that immunity last?

“Unlike other vaccines, there’s no part of the virus that is actually introduced into people,” he said. “I can tell you there’s been no serious side effects with this vaccine.”

Once a week, participants fill out a short questionnaire. “It’s 'have you experienced any of these 13 symptoms’ and if the answer is no, you’re done,” said Ryan Ozawa.

Last week the Ozawas went into the research facility to have their blood drawn.

Ruhaak said, “Four weeks after the second shot we’re having them come back and check for antibodies.”

Although this particular study lasts two years, researchers say they could have enough evidence to prove the vaccine is both safe and effective by the end of November.

“That’s going to be critical for the FDA to make an emergency declaration to be able to approve this vaccine,” said Ruhaak.

As the trial continues, scientists locally are shifting their focus to those 16 and 17 years old.

Volunteers can sign up by clicking here.

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