The First Large-Scale Human Vaccine Trial Has Begun : Consider This from NPR This morning in Savannah, Georgia, the first volunteer was injected in a phase-three vaccine trial administered by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health. Dr Anthony Fauci hopes that up to 15,000 volunteers will be in place by the end of the week. (Tens of thousands more will be needed for additional vaccine trials.)

It will take months to learn if the vaccine produces an effective immune response. Scientists who've studied antibody reactions in coronavirus patients have reason to be optimistic, at least in the short-term.

And Dr Elke Webber, psychology professor at Princeton University, explains why the pandemic may be getting too big to wrap our heads around.

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First Phase III Vaccine Trial Underway, Government Seeks Thousands Of Volunteers

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First Phase III Vaccine Trial Underway, Government Seeks Thousands Of Volunteers

First Phase III Vaccine Trial Underway, Government Seeks Thousands Of Volunteers

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The coronavirus has killed seven people total in Taiwan - seven. In New Zealand, there is no trace of the virus at all right now - so no masks, no social distancing required. And even countries that were hard hit at first like Italy, Spain or France have brought their curves way down.

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ANDY SLAVITT: To be clear, other nations have really crushed this virus. Whether you're talking about Europe or Asia, they really flattened that curve down to almost nothing. And we ask ourselves, kind of, why is it that we haven't done as well?

MCEVERS: Andy Slavitt, a former top health care official in the Obama administration, says this is not hard. In other countries, they wore masks. They stayed home. Their governments helped them do those things. But maybe most importantly, they had trust in the plan, trust in the leaders who were guiding them through it. Andy Slavitt says that is something we simply do not have here in America.

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SLAVITT: I think we see it in the presidential briefings and the inability to trust what we hear. We're seeing it among ourselves when some people say that we should be wearing masks. And where this will really come to play out in short order is when we have a vaccine.

MCEVERS: Because a vaccine only works if enough people trust it and get it. Coming up, the latest on the race to develop a vaccine. And now that nearly a hundred and fifty thousand people have died of COVID here in the U.S., are the numbers just getting too big for us to wrap our heads around? This is CONSIDER THIS from NPR. I'm Kelly McEvers. It's Monday, July 27.

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MCEVERS: Almost 30,000 people split into two groups. One group gets the vaccine. One group doesn't. That's what you do in what's called a phase 3 vaccine trial, and the first one in the U.S. started today.

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FRANCIS COLLINS: A little over three hours ago, the first injection occurred for the phase 3 trial of a vaccine to protect against COVID-19.

MCEVERS: That's Dr. Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health. The NIH is working on the vaccine along with the biotech company Moderna.

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COLLINS: This collaboration...

MCEVERS: By the way, that first person who was injected was in Georgia.

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ANTHONY FAUCI: 6:45 this morning in Savannah, Ga. - multiple sites have been activated, including in Florida and other states where there's a lot of activity.

MCEVERS: Dr. Anthony Fauci was asked how soon researchers could know if the vaccine works.

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FAUCI: I would say it likely would be towards the end of the year, somewhere around November or so. It could be earlier. I would say November, December likely.

MCEVERS: Let's be clear. That is not the same thing as the vaccine being widely available. Still, just to get to this phase 3 trial, researchers had to know the vaccine was safe and effective in small groups of people. Now scientists have to find out - will it keep large numbers of people from getting sick? And here's the big question. If it does work, for how long?

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FLORIAN KRAMMER: It is reasonable to assume that there will be protection for a timeframe of one to three years.

MCEVERS: Florian Krammer at Mount Sinai in New York worked on a study of 20,000 people who had mild to moderate cases of COVID-19. He says after getting the trial vaccine, 90% of people had antibody responses that lasted at least three months. And those antibodies neutralized the virus, at least in the lab. Researchers hope this is a good sign for longer-term immunity.

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KRAMMER: But, of course, we are scientists. We have to prove that, right? And so that's why everybody's cautious about it.

MCEVERS: If those antibodies wane over time, it is still possible that other parts of your immune system could help, like these cells called T cells.

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KARI NADEAU: T cells are very important in fighting viruses. We know that.

MCEVERS: Dr. Kari Nadeau at Stanford University.

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NADEAU: And so one thing that we're looking at - as the antibodies wane, do the T cell responses also wane? - because those T cell responses can kill the virus.

MCEVERS: And researchers think your immune system might have a stronger reaction to a vaccine than it would to a regular infection in the real world.

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ADRIAN HILL: What we know from many other infections - the vaccine response can be much more durable than the natural infection response.

MCEVERS: Adrian Hill at the University of Oxford is working on one of the leading vaccine candidates right now. He says vaccines are going to deliver a pretty strong dose, which could mean stronger immunity.

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HILL: I'm pretty confident that in COVID, we're going to see that the vaccines are more durable than a natural COVID infection. But again, we don't know yet. We need to wait and see.

MCEVERS: That waiting and seeing is still going to take months. And in that time, one thing researchers say they need are more volunteers. At least three more phase 3 trials are expected to start soon in the U.S. Each of those will need 30,000 people. Dr. Anthony Fauci said today they're still working on getting enough people for the first one.

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FAUCI: We'd like to have 15,000 by the end of the week. I'm not sure that we're going to get there, but hopefully, we'll get as many as we possibly can in order to keep our timeline the way we want it to be. But...

MCEVERS: If you want to volunteer for a vaccine trial, there's a government website, coronaviruspreventionnetwork.org, where you can tell them you are interested.

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MCEVERS: Almost 150,000 people in this country have died from the virus. And the United States has well over 4 million cases. Researchers say it can be hard for our brains to keep track of just how big this outbreak is.

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ELKE WEBER: In fact, our sort of neurons - our neurons are wired in such a way that we only respond to change.

MCEVERS: Elke Weber, a professor of psychology at Princeton, says after four months of hundreds, even thousands of people dying every day, it might have started to feel normal.

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WEBER: I think with any kind of consistent danger, people get used to situations like that. You know, when you live in a war zone, after a while, sort of your everyday risk becomes just baseline.

MCEVERS: Weber talked to my colleague Ailsa Chang about why that is and how to think about the pandemic differently.

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AILSA CHANG: But when I'm thinking about, say, a war zone, the example that you brought up, during a war, it's clearer who the enemy is. But during a pandemic, is a sense of the enemy vaguer and therefore the toll that that enemy is taking on a society isn't as clear-cut?

WEBER: Absolutely. I think that what you said is so true in so many different ways. So let's decompose that.

CHANG: Yes.

WEBER: One of them is, you know, that with COVID, we're dealing with a small virus. It's not something that most people can visualize. So I completely agree with you. I think the other thing that makes it really hard to act appropriately is the lag between our actions and the consequences. And so if not wearing a mask or getting in contact with somebody who - she has COVID would make us ill instantaneously, that would be a very different situation because we would get feedback about what works and what doesn't work.

CHANG: Right.

WEBER: But the fact that the reaction comes in a week or in two weeks later or maybe not at all, as probabilistic - that is certainly not designed to teach us what good behavior is.

CHANG: So then how do we make these just astronomical statistics - more than 140,000 deaths already - how do we make them resonate more with people?

WEBER: Well, one thing is just that people are not very good with large numbers. And so to put it into a context where people can imagine what it means like can be very helpful. So if it takes a current death toll of COVID, which is in the 140,000s, and you divide that number into the American population, which is a little bit more than 300 million, that means that 1 in 2,000 Americans has died already.

CHANG: Right.

WEBER: That's one very good way of doing it. The other one would be to say, well, what towns and cities in the U.S. has COVID wiped out at this point? And if you live in New Jersey, that would be the - Paterson, N.J., is gone. It's a population of 145,000. Syracuse, N.Y. - if you want to put into New York context - Syracuse, N.Y., is gone, wiped out, a whole town, city wiped out by the virus. Pasadena, Calif., is gone.

CHANG: Wow.

WEBER: Dayton, Ohio, Waco, Texas - yeah. So depending on where you are, making it local and making it concrete I think can really help.

CHANG: That does totally reframe the number in my head when you just did that. You have drawn parallels, I understand, between how people are responding to the current pandemic and also how they've been responding to climate change. Tell us - what are the similarities you see in those two responses?

WEBER: So if you think about both COVID and climate change, in both cases, we don't experience the consequences of our current actions right now. But in both cases, early action really matters. Yeah. So this is sort of the perverse recipe. And so there's a chance that we might actually sort of learn some lessons from COVID that it makes sense, on the one hand, to pay attention to science. Yeah. The science is telling us (unintelligible) that early action matters. Our personal experience doesn't do so, but science does.

We can also see that, yeah, sort of government intervention is not necessarily a bad thing. When we talk about paternalism, paternalism is not necessarily a dirty word. You know, governments are there to protect us from exactly circumstances like that. So there might be a positive takeaway that can be applied to greater willingness to do something about climate change.

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MCEVERS: Elke Weber, professor of psychology at Princeton, talking to my colleague Ailsa Chang. Additional reporting in this episode from our colleagues at All Things Considered and Morning Edition and from NPR's Richard Harris. For more news, download the NPR One app or listen to your local public radio station. Supporting that station makes this podcast possible. Do it.

I'm Kelly McEvers. We'll be back with more tomorrow.

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