Less than an hour away from Elon, researchers at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill are working to contain the coronavirus pandemic through a clinical trial of a potential COVID-19 vaccine. The trial is continuing even as undergraduate instruction has moved online at UNC following several cluster outbreaks of the virus on their campus. 

UNC is the site of a phase three COVID-19 vaccine trial, meaning the vaccine is now being administered to thousands of people in order to determine its effectiveness. The trial at UNC is led by doctors Cynthia Gay, David Wohl and Joseph Eron in UNC’s division of infectious diseases. None of the researchers returned Elon News Network’s multiple requests for comment.

Video by Emery Eisner

The trial at UNC is part of a national test of Moderna’s vaccine, also called mRNA-1273. Up to 30,000 participants will be enrolled in the study, according to the National Institutes of Health. The NIH also said participants will be randomly assigned to the vaccine or a placebo injection. Neither the participants nor the researchers involved will know which group is getting which treatment.

Though it remains unclear exactly when a vaccine will become readily available, North Carolina State Health Director Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson said she is hoping for widespread vaccination by February or March of 2021. 

“I think vaccination is going to be critically important. That will be our lever to change this,” Tilson said. “In public health, the most important tool we have is vaccination.” 

Tilson said while she understands concerns surrounding new vaccines, she emphasized that resources are “ramping up” for the creation and testing of COVID-19 vaccines.

Ginette Archinal, Elon’s medical director, said people should put in careful consideration before getting a COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available. 

“This is a decision that individuals need to make based on their own risk factors for contracting the illness, spreading the illness to others and suffering complications form the illness,” Archinal said.

Archinal added that when a vaccine is widely available, it could have a profound impact on daily life at Elon and statewide.

“All our citizens could be protected, including those at most risk of severe complications and death because of inadequate health care access, preexisting conditions, and economic hardship,” Archinal said.

Adults interested in participating in the trial can sign up through a national registry where they are asked to provide informed consent. To get involved, visit coronaviruspreventionnetwork.org