Iowans step up to participate in COVID-19 vaccine research

In August 2020, more than 250 bold Iowans traveled from across the state to University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics. Hailing from small towns in northwest Iowa, to cities as large as Des Moines, Dubuque and Ottumwa, these Iowans were driven by an important purpose: they were participating in the Pfizer-BioNTech clinical trial that would lead to the first emergency authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Fast forward one year later and Iowans’ willingness to participate in this research has impacted people around the world. To date, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been safely administered to hundreds of millions of individuals, prevented hundreds of thousands of deaths and hospitalizations and became the first COVID-19 vaccine to receive full FDA approval.

“Iowans have a strong history of clinical trial participation, so it comes as no surprise they once again stepped up to help with the development of vaccines that have had a significant public health impact,” said Patricia Winokur, MD, executive dean of Carver College of Medicine and head of UI vaccine trials.

From 2002 to 2004, hundreds of Iowans from around the state participated in smallpox vaccine trials due to heightened concerns about bioterrorism. And in 2009, when the H1N1 influenza virus pandemic hit the world, Iowans from 6 months to 90 years old participated in a number of influenza vaccine trials to help guide appropriate dosing and vaccine strategies.

This tradition of clinical research participation has continued into the COVID-19 pandemic with Iowans stepping up to participate in all four of UI Health Care’s COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials. In addition to the initial Pfizer-BioNTech clinical trial, an additional 150 Iowans participated in a clinical trial for the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine, which may receive emergency use authorization yet this year.

Most recently, UI Health Care began clinical trial enrollment for a new COVID-19 vaccine from the pharmaceutical company Sanofi, and Iowans are also testing the effectiveness of booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

“We couldn’t be prouder of the role that Iowans have played, and continue to play, in developing safe and effective vaccines that stop the spread of COVID-19,” Winokur said. “With much of the world still unvaccinated, there is still a critical need for more vaccine options, making Iowans’ continued participation in these trials even more important.”

One reason UI Health Care continues to be a site for vaccine clinical trials is because Iowans have proven to be reliable and dedicated research subjects. This strong retention of research participants encourages companies like Pfizer to work with UI Health Care on future clinical trials.

“Participating in a vaccine clinical trial is a big commitment,” Winokur said. “Our Pfizer-BioNTech trial participants agreed to be followed for two years, filling out a diary once a week, and our Novavax trial participants even fill out daily diaries. Most of our participants have been very compliant throughout the duration of the study, which not only provides more complete data to assess safety and efficacy, but also leads to additional vaccine trial opportunities.”

Dawn Goodlove of Marion, participated in the Novavax clinical trial and has no regrets about making the long-term commitment.

“This was my way of doing my part to put an end to the pandemic,” Goodlove said. “I was more than happy to be one of the first to get the Novavax COVID-19 shot and help make this vaccine available to others around the world eventually.”

To learn more about currently available COVID-19 vaccines, visit uihc.org. To search for clinical trials that are currently enrolling at UI Health Care, visit clinicaltrials.uihealthcare.org.


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