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COVID-19 vaccine trials begin in Knoxville; Volunteers still needed

Several promising vaccines against COVID-19 are being tested in the United States, and East Tennesseans are on the front lines of the research

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — East Tennesseans are among the first in the nation to be vaccinated with one of the COVID-19 vaccine candidates. 

Volunteer Research Group, located at a clinic inside University of Tennessee Medical Center, is launching human trials for several COVID-19 vaccine candidates this week. 

Volunteers were set to receive injections from the Johnson and Johnson trial on Monday. The study originated in Belgium where they held small-scale trials. 

"We will be among the first group of people who will be receiving the vaccine in the U.S.," said Dr. William Smith, founder and president of Volunteer Research Group.

Another trial, this one by Moderna, will start in Knoxville next week. It has already shown promising early results in trials at Emory University. In the United States, they hope to test the vaccine on 30,000 volunteers to see if it works and that is safe.

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Other trials will roll out in the coming weeks, and researchers are hoping they'll find more than one successful vaccine.

"It’s going to take several vaccines to get the population of the world vaccinated to actually put an end to this pandemic. We’re not looking for a single winner we are looking for several winners," Dr. Smith said.

Volunteer Research is still looking for 4,000 to 5,000 volunteers to take part in the trials. You can get more information and sign up here or by calling 865-305-DRUG (3784). 

"I would rather have a 50 percent chance of getting a vaccine that's likely to work than have no chance by not doing something," the doctor said. "Particularly in view of the increasing numbers of cases that we are seeing locally."

Researchers are counting on Tennesseans to live up to their name.

"We are the Volunteer State, so for us to have as many volunteers as possible," Dr. Smith said.

It normally takes years to create a new vaccine from scratch, but scientists are setting speed records this time around, spurred by the knowledge that vaccination is the world's best hope against the pandemic.

There are side effects, similar to those associated with the flu vaccine: Headaches and general fatigue, along with discomfort at the injection site.

"It's taking existing technology and adapting it to the coronavirus, which makes it likely to be very effective," Smith told 10News.

The coronavirus wasn't even known to exist before late December, and vaccine makers sprang into action Jan. 10 when China shared the virus' genetic sequence.

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