For the latest COVID-19 campus news and resources, visit

Search Close Search


Top story: UMass Medical School announces participation and enrollment for vaccine trial candidate against COVID-19

UMass Medical School Communications

December 23, 2020

As this unprecedented year comes to a close, the Office of Communications is rerunning some of the big stories of 2020 that highlight the incredible work of the UMass Medical School community. From the first-in-the-nation early graduation of our medical students to the essential clinical research that lead to a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, from the tremendous growth of the institution’s research funding to ground broken on the new research and education building, we have so much to be proud of. Look for these stories on UMassMed News between Dec. 21 and Jan. 1. We hope you enjoy them!

The study will measure whether the vaccine candidate can protect against COVID-19 infection
with SARS-CoV-2.

Update: This study is complete.

UMass Medical School is enrolling healthy volunteers to take part in a Phase II/III clinical trial testing whether a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine candidate can prevent infection with the virus that causes 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19). The trial, by Pfizer and BioNTech, follows review of preclinical and clinical data from a Phase I trial, which assessed safety, tolerability and immune response in a group of volunteers.

According to Robert W. Finberg, MD, the Richard M. Haidack Professor in Medicine and chair and professor of medicine, UMMS will enroll several hundred volunteers in the trial as part of a network of 120 centers seeking up to 30,000 healthy participants; about 15,000 have already been enrolled in sites around the world. The study will measure whether the vaccine candidate can protect against COVID-19 infection with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

The Phase II/III study seeks healthy, non-pregnant adults 18–85 years old to participate in a randomized, observer-blind study of the safety, immune response and efficacy of the vaccine. In a blind trial, half the participants will receive the vaccine and the other half receive a placebo; no one—neither the volunteers nor the research staff conducting the trial—know whether a participant received the vaccine or the placebo. “We plan to reach out to areas where there are populations at higher risk for contracting COVID and look to enroll healthy volunteers from a diverse range of communities,” said Dr. Finberg. Participants in the trial will be given two doses of either the vaccine or the placebo at UMass Medical School’s clinical research center on its Worcester campus, with periodic follow-up visits over the next two years.

Based on information from the trial so far, the trial vaccine has not shown any severe reactions, said Finberg. “A good percentage of people do get a sore arm and some people may get a fever or body aches, but no severe side effects.”

“I think what we will know by the fall is whether people make antibodies in response to the vaccine. We think it is likely that they will, because that’s what all the previous vaccine studies show. Whether that means the vaccine is effective in preventing the disease will probably take longer to find out. “

Finberg stressed that safety will be closely monitored, and that the trial is placebo-controlled, which is the most definitive way of determining if a vaccine is both safe and effective.

“People should know it’s a placebo controlled trial, because that’s how science works. That’s how you obtain results that are real and durable. The goal of the trial is to prepare a safe and effective vaccine.”

The trial’s primary endpoints will be prevention of COVID-19 in those who have not been infected by SARS-CoV-2 prior to immunization, and prevention of COVID-19 regardless of whether participants have previously been infected by SARS-CoV-2. Secondary endpoints include prevention of severe COVID-19 in those groups.

Related media coverage:
MassLive: UMass Medical School in Worcester seeks ’several hundred’ healthy volunteers to test potential COVID-19 vaccine
Worcester Telegram & Gazette: Volunteers needed for UMass Medical School study of COVID-19 vaccine
Worcester Business Journal: UMass Medical School enrolling for Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine trial 
Spectrum News: UMass Medical School Needs Hundreds of Volunteers for Clinical Trial of Coronavirus Vaccine

Related stories on UMassMed News:
UMass Memorial providers receive first COVID shots at UMMS
COVID vaccines arrive in Worcester; health care providers, staff first to be inoculated
Robert Finberg details next steps for COVID vaccine