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Candidate to receive 1st Israeli COVID vaccine dose forced to withdraw

Tests discover Boaz Koldoner has coronavirus antibodies, indicating he already had the virus; he encourages others to volunteer for human trials

Boaz Kolodner (video screen capture: Ynet)
Boaz Kolodner (video screen capture: Ynet)

The candidate who was set to receive the first dose of an Israeli COVID-19 vaccine was forced to withdraw from the clinical trial that will start next week after tests discovered he had coronavius antibodies, Hebrew media reported Friday.

Boaz Kolodner, 47, underwent a series of medical tests at Ramat Gan’s Sheba Medical Center before he was scheduled to receive the first dose of the vaccine developed by Israel’s state-run Institute for Biological Research on Sunday. Among them was a serological test which detected coronavirus antibodies in his blood, the Ynet news site said.

This indicated that Kolodner had contracted the coronavirus some time in the past, but had not experienced any symptoms. Despite his disqualification, the trial is not expected to be delayed. Four other volunteers underwent the same series of tests as Kolodner, and one of them will be tapped to receive the first dose of the vaccine at Sheba.

In addition, a 34-year-old doctoral student will receive a dose at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital on Sunday, according to Ynet.

Vials of a potential coronavirus vaccine are seen on an assembly line in a photograph released by the Israel Institute for Biological Research on October 25, 2020. (Defense Ministry)

The recipients will remain in the hospital for 24 hours in order for doctors to closely monitor them.

Speaking to Ynet after his removal, Kolodner called on the public to not be afraid and volunteer to participate in the trial.

“I felt that a balance had to be found between hope and fear. Those who are not afraid to help should do so and can even come out of it with good news,” he said.

Kolodner called it a “privilege” to have contracted the virus without having even known.

Explaining his decision to participate in the trial in the first place, he said, “I felt it was the right thing to do.”

Indiana vesiculovirus with novel coronavirus spikes attached to it, which will be used in a potential vaccine, as seen in a photograph released by the Israel Institute for Biological Research on October 25, 2020. (Defense Ministry)

“Everyone who is part of the experiment believes in it. The reason I volunteered was to [learn to cope with] a degree of uncertainty. During these days when we all experience so much uncertainty in every field — it is our civic duty to cope with some of this difficulty,” he said.

Like in all vaccine trials, some participants will receive a placebo instead of the actual vaccine.

On Tuesday, the second group of volunteers will arrive at two different hospitals to receive the vaccine. One in four of them will receive a placebo.

The first phase of the clinical trial is expected to last roughly a month and will involve some 80 volunteers ages 18 to 55 in the two hospitals.

Vials of a potential coronavirus vaccine are seen on an assembly line in a photograph released by the Israel Institute for Biological Research on October 25, 2020. (Defense Ministry)

The second phase in December will test roughly 1,000 volunteers ages 18 to 85 at eight hospitals around the country. In this phase, volunteers with pre-existing conditions will be allowed to participate.

If that larger group responds well to the vaccine, injections will then be given to some 30,000 people in April or May 2021. If the vaccine works well and there are no significant side effects, it will then be approved for full use in the general population.

Last Monday, the Defense Ministry announced that Israel had begun mass-producing the potential coronavirus vaccine and plans to distribute it to both Israelis and Palestinians if it is approved for use.

“In six months, the vaccine will be ready. In the meantime, the institute is working on mass production, without knowing whether the vaccine is good or not, so that we don’t reach a situation that in July, when we receive approval from the Health Ministry, we’ll be held up by production,” Prof. Amos Panet, who is on the advisory board for the Israel Institute for Biological Research, told Army Radio.

The director of the state-run institute, Shmuel Shapira, said they will produce 15 million doses in the first stage and estimated the shot could be ready by July.

Israel is producing a domestic vaccine as a backup plan while it also conducts negotiations with pharmaceutical firms further ahead in the development process to receive doses when they become available. It has also been in contact with Russia and reportedly China to possibly use their vaccines if they prove effective.

The Defense Ministry has so far produced 25,000 doses for the first and second phases of the human trials. The vaccine was first tested on small animals — mice, hamsters and rabbits — and then on pigs.

The vaccine is named Brilife, a portmanteau of the Hebrew word for health — bri’ut — and life. The name also contains the abbreviation for Israel, IL, as well as the letters that make up the initialism of the laboratory, IIRB.

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