Drugmakers struggle to get volunteers for COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials as more people opt for approved shots

As more COVID-19 vaccines are authorized and made available to a broader population of people, drugmakers are struggling to conduct further studies of the vaccines, The Wall Street Journal reported. 

Many people don't want to take a placebo, according to the newspaper, but drugmakers still need trials to answer such questions as whether a half-dose of a vaccine is effective and whether vaccines work in different populations.

Conducting more clinical trials on vaccines could also help determine if they are effective against new variants of the coronavirus, and if they work in people with compromised immune systems. Moderna plans to test whether a half-dose of its vaccine could offer sufficient protection against the virus, the Journal reported.  

But some clinical trial volunteers are opting to get an approved vaccine rather than continue in a trial. Gregory Glenn, head of research at Novavax, told the Journal that about 1.5 percent of clinical trial volunteers assigned to receive a placebo decided to get a vaccine from Moderna or Pfizer since those were already approved. 

In turn, drugmakers and researchers are looking for new ways to test vaccines. One option, according to the Journal, would be to use blood samples to figure out what level of immune response a vaccine needs to trigger to protect against the coronavirus, and using that information to conduct smaller, faster and cheaper clinical trials. 

Using blood samples to determine the level of immune response a vaccine needs to have to protect someone from the virus could help determine if reduced doses are effective, if they work in children and how long protection from a vaccine lasts, the Journal reported. 

Another potential solution could be to run larger clinical trials outside of the U.S. in places where transmission of the virus is high and vaccine availability is limited, according to the Journal. Arcturus Therapeutics is considering running a phase 3 trial of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine outside of the U.S. because it seems increasingly unlikely to be able to do so in the U.S., CEO Joseph Payne told the Journal

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