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Ochsner teams up with drugmaker for COVID-19 vaccine trial

“I really hope that my efforts and being part of this trial will lead to the fastest development of a vaccine that will allow us to get back to normal,” Smith said.

JEFFERSON PARISH, La. — The New Orleans area is now part of the global search for a Coronavirus vaccine. 

Jefferson Parish-based Ochsner Health is teaming up with drug giant Pfizer to conduct an advanced trial of an experimental COVID-19 inoculation. 

Dr. Victoria Smith is a family physician in Kenner. 

She volunteered to be part of the vaccine study. 

Smith got her injection on Thursday. 

“I really hope that my efforts and being part of this trial will lead to the fastest development of a vaccine that will allow us to get back to normal,” Smith said.

Half the volunteers receive the vaccine and half get a placebo. 

Ochsner’s principal investigator and Director of Clinical Infectious Diseases Research Dr. Julia Garcia-Diaz, explains they are testing what researchers hope will be a synthetic virus blocking antibody. 

“It tricks your body into making a piece of the virus which in turn will make your body, sort of make the antibody to fight the COVID virus if it was to encounter it down the road,” Dr. Garcia said. 

Dr. Garcia plans to follow about 300 study participants like Smith over the next 24 months. 

The federal government announced it will pay Pfizer nearly $2 billion for delivery of 100 million doses of their COVID vaccine in December. 

Dr. Garcia admits it normally takes years to get a working vaccine to market. 

“I don’t know if it’s going to be a working vaccine by the end of the year,” Garcia said. “They’ll be analysis of the information, but will it be at the end of the year, I don’t know if I can comment on that.” 

Dr. Garcia said she doesn’t have enough words to express how she feels about being part of this study. 

“I don’t remember anything being this exciting in my entire career and I have been doing this for a number of years, over 20 years that I have been doing research,” Garcia said. 

 For Dr Smith, helping to find a vaccine is personal. 

“As an African American, science hasn’t always been great to us,” Smith said. “I’m also excited to be part of a study that’s helping to develop a vaccine that has disproportionately, for a condition that has disproportionately affected African Americans.” 

Ochsner in one of 120 sites across the world now working on the potential vaccine. 

 The Pfizer vaccine trial will include 30,000 participants across the globe. 

Ochsner will enroll a limited number of randomized participants selected from an existing pool of candidates from across Louisiana who previously expressed interest in COVID-19 research. 

Another drug company, Moderna is also testing an experimental vaccine. 

For individuals interested in participating in future COVID-19 research, including vaccines or treatment trials, please reach out toCOVIDvaccine@ochsner.org.

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