© 2021 WLRN
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
The latest updates on the COVID-19 outbreak in South Florida.

UM And Palm Beach Research Center Launch COVID-19 Vaccine Clinical Trials

Miami Herald


The University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and the Palm Beach Research Center will launch phase three of clinical trials for potential COVID-19 vaccines by the beginning of August. The first vaccine candidate is from the biotech company Moderna.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) chose UM to conduct large-scale trials because the Miller School of Medicine has been affiliated with the NIH’s HIV Vaccine Trials Network for decades. It was only fitting for them to join the NIH’s new COVID-19 Prevention Trials Network (COVPN).

You turn to WLRN for reporting you can trust and stories that move our South Florida community forward. Your support makes it possible. Please donate now. Thank you.

“The NIH reached out to many of those networks and used a lot of the resources and infrastructure of the already-established infectious disease trial networks,” said Dr. Susanne Doblecki-Lewis, the lead researcher of UM’s trials.

Credit Amber Amortegui / WLRN
Dr. Susanne Doblecki-Lewis is the lead researcher for the COVID-19 Phase 3 clinical trials at UM.

Doblecki-Lewis mentioned that it’s unusual to already begin phase three testing because the early development stages normally take more time.

“This has just happened at a speed that’s absolutely incredible, and no one has really seen before,” Doblecki-Lewis said. “There’s a lot of urgency given what a huge impact this virus is having on our lives, but all the safety steps and the usual vaccine development steps are part of the process and remain part of the process.”

The Miller School of Medicine is looking for 1,000 volunteers. Doblecki-Lewis stressed the importance of targeting a diverse pool of people. 

“We may find that some vaccines work better, for instance, in older people and some vaccines work better for younger people,” Dobleck-Lewis said. “In the case of COVID, all of us are potentially impacted, and so we really want to get a broad representation of people in South Florida.” 

Stephanie Morse is the recruiting supervisor for the Palm Beach Research Center. They’ve started pre-screening people, and they’re still looking for about 300 to 500 high-risk volunteers.

“Anyone from first responders, medical professionals, teachers...the foodservice business, hospitality,” Morse said.

The Palm Beach Research Center also needs anyone with pre-existing health conditions like asthma, COPD, diabetes, and high blood pressure. 

If you’re interested in participating, call the Palm Beach Research Center at 561-689-0606. The center will pre-screen volunteers over the phone, and they’ll then schedule an in-person appointment to speak with the doctors.

Gregory Rummo, a chemistry professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University, received a notice on Friday that he was selected for the clinical trials after going through the pre-screening process.

Rummo and his family visited Disney World in March, about a week before amusement parks closed. When they got home, Rummo had a fever and felt queasy. He was convinced he contracted COVID-19, but at that time, it was difficult to get tested. 

After recovering, he decided to get tested for antibodies in May so he could donate his convalescent plasma, which could be a possible treatment for COVID-19 patients. However, the test results were negative. He tried again in mid-June, and they were still negative.

“I’m so fed-up with this whole COVID thing, what can I do as an individual citizen to help people?” Rummo asked. “So, obviously I can’t donate convalescent plasma at this point, but I can donate my body for science.”

Rummo will partake in a two-year study that includes an initial physical exam before his first vaccine injection on July 31. The second injection is three weeks later, and the remaining follow-up visits will test his antibodies. He’ll receive $1,190 for his participation.

“I anticipate probably getting a temperature,” Rummo said. “Maybe feeling lousy for a couple of days, but that’s a small price to pay to get this thing across the finish line.”

Clinical trials will also be conducted at the Research Centers of America in Hollywood and Suncoast Research Group in Miami.