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Frontline Workers Deemed Essential in Helping Develop COVID-19 Vaccine

Patti Singer

Dr. Angela Branche, co-director of the URMC Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit, on a Zoom news conference July 2, 2020. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

The people who’ve been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic are being asked to help find a way to prevent infection.

People in high-risk occupations – essential workers who have had daily contact with the public while others could work from home – are being sought to volunteer for a phase 3 study of a potential COVID-19 vaccine that is expected to start in August at the University of Rochester Medical Center. The research is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

This study is different from the vaccine study going on at Rochester Regional Health.

Many in the health care, emergency services, retail and hospitality fields also are minorities, and the Black community has been hit by COVID-19 out of proportion to its representation in the general population.

Dr. Angela Branche, co-director of the URMC Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit, said having diversity in the study group is crucial.

“Any vaccine efficacy study has to include that population that we want to protect from becoming infected,” she said during an online news conference July 2.

Phase 3 is the last part of a clinical trial. The first two phases concentrate on the safety and side effects of the medication. The final phase focuses on whether the medication works.

Phase 3 is the last step before researchers submit their data to the Food and Drug Administration for approval – which leads to large-scale manufacture and sale.

“We understand that there may be some distress in certain communities with science, with government, with academics, with research, with the hospital in general,” Branche said. “We want to really work to dispel any distress that there might be and for people to really understand why this is important and why we need their help.”

She said researchers would be talking with community leaders to learn the most effective way to bring their message to potential volunteers. She said they planned to start discussion groups shortly after the 4th of July with people who will help them “speak the language.”

Dr. Michael Mendoza, commissioner of the Monroe County Department of Public Health and a practicing family medicine physician, said he urges his colleagues to talk with eligible patients about considering to enroll in the study.

“This isn’t about experimenting,” he said. “This is about finding a cure. If we can find a diverse population on whom we can evaluate the efficacy of this vaccine, I think that’s a good thing for our community.”

To learn more about the study, go to or call (585) 276-5212.