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NEWS | Nov. 3, 2020

San Antonio Military Health System seeks volunteers for COVID-19 vaccine trial

By Elaine Sanchez Brooke Army Medical Center Public Affairs

Two San Antonio Military Health System facilities are seeking volunteers from among the military beneficiary population to participate in a COVID-19 vaccine trial.

The trial is part of Operation Warp Speed, a national initiative to accelerate the development, production and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.

Brooke Army Medical Center and Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center are among the Department of Defense locations taking part in the Phase III trial to evaluate the vaccine under development by AstraZeneca. The other sites are Naval Medical Center San Diego; Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland; and Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Virginia.

"The San Antonio Military Health System is proud to answer the call to help serve the needs of our nation in these unprecedented times," said Air Force Maj. Gen. John DeGoes, SAMHS market director and 59th Medical Wing commander. "We are proud to be selected as a partner in the effort to accelerate development of COVID-19 vaccines."

“We are honored to be among those sites selected in support of this whole-of government effort to ensure safe, effective medical products are provided at a critical time to the American people,” added Brig. Gen. Shan Bagby, BAMC commanding general. “SAMHS has the existing research infrastructure and experience to make a significant contribution to this important effort.”

The Trial

The AstraZeneca vaccine trial is one of many national trials being conducted through Operation Warp Speed, and the first to encompass the DOD. With more than 80 sites in communities nationwide, the trial has an overall target enrollment of 30,000 participants. Military sites are looking to draw 3,000 of those volunteers, according to a DOD release.

The AstraZeneca vaccine trial kicked back off this week after a voluntary pause last month to investigate a single event of an unexplained illness in one of the UK participants. After a review of an independent committee’s recommendations, health authorities across the world, to include the FDA, have concluded the trials are safe to resume.

“Everyone involved in this trial is deeply committed to the safety of our participants and to maintaining the highest standards of conduct across all our clinical trials,” said Col. Jason Okulicz, principal investigator and an infectious disease physician. “We have numerous strict safety procedures in place to monitor the health of our participants and are committed to conducting this trial with safety first and foremost in mind.”

The Criteria

DOD sites, to include BAMC and WHASC, are open on a voluntary basis to Military Health System beneficiaries -- active duty, retirees and family members 18 years of age and older.

Beneficiaries are welcome to sign up for consideration now by reaching out to either site:

Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center (Site Code: WHASC)
Recruitment Phone Number: 253-341-6170

Brooke Army Medical Center (Site Code: BAMC)
Recruitment Phone Number: 253-924-9458

Alternatively, volunteers can also visit, click on “Volunteer Now” and complete the survey. When requested, volunteers should enter the appropriate site code, which is BAMC or WHASC, depending on their preference and geographic location.

Once the survey is completed, local study site coordinators will screen volunteers and contact those participants in their area who may be a good match for the study. Volunteers should consult with the study coordinator if they’re scheduled to move, change their duty station or deploy within 12 months of beginning participation.

According to the DOD release, the study is looking for people who are at an increased risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection which may include:

• Working in an essential job, such as healthcare professions, emergency response personnel, grocery workers, meat-packing plants, restaurant staff, public transit, etc.
• Living in densely populated residential environments
• Living or working in congregated living facilities, such as nursing homes
• A member of a community that has been hardest hit by this pandemic, such as older people, individuals with underlying health conditions, and racial/ethnic groups such as African Americans, Latino, and Native American populations.

The Study

Volunteers selected to participate will be enrolled into the study. Once the local sites are active, participants will be called in to receive two doses of the vaccine or placebo about a month apart.

Along with scheduled visits, participants will be asked to come in if they have symptoms throughout the year to be tested for COVID-19. Study participants will be followed for two years to determine the vaccine’s efficacy, while being compensated for their participation.

“We are all hoping for a vaccine that’s effective in preventing the virus,” Okulicz said. “However, we will also explore its efficacy in lessening the severity of symptoms and hospitalizations.”

The Sites

Both BAMC and WHASC are conducting operations from temporary structures in areas near the main hospital buildings.

“Our intent is to take every precaution to prevent increased foot traffic within the hospital,” Okulicz explained, “while also securing a safe space that’s convenient for our participants.”

About 20 contract personnel, to include research coordinators, providers, nurses, pharmacists, technicians and administrative support, will staff the two sites.

As for participants, Okulicz believes there will be many active duty, retirees and family members willing to raise their hand to serve once more.

“We are very fortunate to have an incredible military population here who often steps up for these studies,” Okulicz said. “There’s a sense of willingness among this group to contribute to something greater that’s unparalleled.”