Human trials have begun on a vaccine for COVID-19 developed in Israel by the government-run Institute for Biological Research. The trials, to be conducted in three phases, are likely to take close to a year before the vaccine is safe to be released to the general public.
Two people have now received the shot in preliminary safety trials. Segev Harel, 26, from Kibbutz Sde Nehemia in the north of the country, was inoculated at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer Hospital, in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan. Aner Ottolenghi, 34, of Kibbutz Tlalim in southern Israel received the dose at Hadassah Hospital, Ein Karem in Jerusalem. “I feel good, a bit excited,” said Ottolenghi. “I recommend to as many people as possible join the trial and help the whole public.”
The researchers at the government institute say they have produced about 25,000 doses of the experimental vaccine. The first stage of the trials will be conducted over three months and in three phases.
In phase 1, preliminary safety trials will be conducted on 80 healthy volunteers between 18 and 55, split evenly between Sheba and Hadassah.
Each volunteer will receive a shot with either the vaccine or a placebo. After a few hours of monitoring, they will be released. For the following three weeks, they will be examined for any side effects and to see whether they have developed antibodies to the virus.
In phase 2, scheduled to begin in December, more extensive safety tests will be conducted on 960 healthy volunteers over the age of 18, in a number of medical centers throughout Israel. This part of the trial is intended to complete the safety testing of the vaccine, adjust the dosage and examine its effectiveness.
The third phase will be a broad trial to examine the vaccine’s effectiveness on up to 30,000 volunteers. Depending on the success of the first two stages, it is expected to begin in April or May.
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If it is successful, the vaccine will then be approved and be released to the entire population.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday that in addition to the locally-produced vaccine, Israel is talks with other countries and international pharmaceutical companies to prioritize distribution in Israel once a vaccine is ready. “One way or another, we’ll have enough vaccine doses for all of Israel's citizens and we'll be able to free ourselves of this pandemic,” Netanyahu said, speaking at Sheba Medical Center. “I don’t think it’s happening immediately, but I can see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
The human trials follow promising trials on animals, the previous stage of a process that started on February 1, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the institute to work on developing a vaccine. “Not only did they not get sick and not develop symptoms of the disease," said a scientist at the instiute, "they also created antibodies that succeeded in neutralizing the real virus, the vicious virus.”