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August 27, 2020

UMass Medical School enrolling for Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine trial

Photo | Grant Welker UMass Medical School in Worcester

UMass Medical School is enrolling healthy volunteers for a trial for a potential coronavirus vaccine, the Worcester school announced Thursday.

The school is one of 120 centers to collectively enroll up to 30,000 participants for the trial, with half of those already vaccinated, UMass said. The study is being sponsored by the drug companies Pfizer and BioNTech, which are jointly developing a vaccine for which they signed an agreement with the federal government in July to produce up to 600 million doses to help fight the pandemic.

The trial is seeking to discover whether messenger ribonucleic acid, or mRNA, can prevent infections of the virus. UMass is seeking participants for the trial's second and third phases, which follow an initial phase assessing safety, tolerability and immune response in a group of volunteers.

Pfizer, which is based in New York, and BioNTech, a German firm, are among pharmaceutical companies racing to develop a vaccine to help bring to an end a pandemic that, according to Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, has killed more than 827,000 worldwide and tallied more than 24 million cases. The firms said in July they expect to begin delivering doses next year.

UMass' study is being led by Dr. Robert Finberg, an infectious disease expert.

"What we will know by the fall is whether people make antibodies in response to the vaccine," Finberg said in a statement. "We think it is likely that they will, because that’s what all the previous vaccine studies show. Whether that means the vaccine is effective in preventing the disease will probably take longer to find out."

UMass expects to enroll several hundred volunteers, half of whom will receive a placebo and half the vaccine. Participants will be given two doses at UMass' Worcester campus, with periodic follow-up visits over the next two years. People interested in participating in the study can contact Jaclyn Longtine at or 508-856-5472.

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