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Volunteer to receive 1st Israeli vaccine shot hails ‘historic opportunity’

Segev Harel, 26, tapped to get COVID-19 shot at Sheba Hospital on Sunday as clinical trial gets underway

Segev Harel, set to receive the first shot of Israel's coronavirus vaccine candidate. (Sheba Medical Center)
Segev Harel, set to receive the first shot of Israel's coronavirus vaccine candidate. (Sheba Medical Center)

The first volunteer set to receive the first dose of an Israeli COVID-19 vaccine candidate said he is feeling optimistic and described his participation in the clinical trial as “a historic opportunity.”

Speaking in a video posted on Saturday, Segev Harel, 26, said he was healthy and feeling confident about the upcoming tests.

Clinical trials for the Brilife vaccine, developed by the Israel Institute for Biological Research, will begin Sunday at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan and at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem.

“I think everything will be ok, I’m even sure of it,” said Harel, an undergraduate student from Kibbutz Sde Nehemia in northern Israel, introducing himself as the first Israeli due to receive a shot in a video released by Sheba Medical Center.

“A lot of people have been harmed by coronavirus, health-wise, psychologically and economically. And if the small contribution I can make is to participate in this trial and give hope that we’re on the way to end the pandemic, I’ll have played my part,” he said.

The candidate who was set to be the first to get the shot, Boaz Kolodner, 47, was forced to withdraw from the trial after tests discovered he had coronavirus antibodies, Hebrew media reported Friday.

Boaz Kolodner (video screen capture: Ynet)

Kolodner underwent a series of medical tests at Sheba Medical Center before he was scheduled to receive the first dose of the vaccine. Among them was a serological test that detected coronavirus antibodies in his blood. This indicated that Kolodner had contracted the coronavirus sometime in the past, but had not experienced any symptoms.

Four other volunteers underwent the same series of tests as Kolodner, and Harel was tapped to receive the first dose of the vaccine at Sheba.

A 34-year-old doctoral student will receive a dose at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital on Sunday.

Vials of a potential coronavirus vaccine are seen on an assembly line in a photograph released by Israel’s 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. 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.

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 it 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, IIBR.

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