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Bozeman Health’s participation in a clinical trial for a COVID-19 vaccine is underway.

The local health care system is partnering with Pfizer and BioNTech and is one of about 120 sites to carry out the trials. There will be up to 30,000 participants worldwide and about 100 to 300 locally. Bozeman Health began interviewing potential participants Monday and is seeking non-pregnant, 18-to-85 year olds representing any gender, race and ethnicity.

“Whenever you conduct clinical trials, the safety of the volunteer, the participant is paramount,” Bozeman Health chief physician officer Mark Williams said. “So we want to make sure we go through about a two-hour interaction with these volunteers where we explain in detail the clinical trial itself, we explain the risk.”

Previous work with Pfizer set up the chance to participate in this study, Williams added. Bozeman Health has five people working on the project and that could soon expand to eight. People from other departments are helping out, too.

Bozeman Health will watch the safety and efficacy of the vaccine for several months, up to a year. Side effects may include injection site soreness, muscle soreness and brief fevers.

There have been more than 170,000 deaths in the United States due to COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Gallatin County, there have been three deaths related to COVID-19. Public health experts often point to a vaccine as a critical piece in limiting the dangers of the disease.

“What’s interesting with this global urgency to develop a vaccine in so many large companies and others pursuing a solution, the vaccines do differ in their scientific approaches,” Williams said. “This one is somewhat unique in that the process.”

In this Pfizer research study, patients receive an injection of a small amount of modified RNA, which prompts the body to form a protein mimicking the COVID-19 virus. But that protein can’t replicate the virus or cause someone to contract the virus. Then the body’s immune system is expected to recognize the protein as not belonging and form antibodies and specialized cells to combat the virus.

If this phase of the trial is successful, Pfizer and BioNTech expect to seek approval for the vaccine as early as October 2020, according to a Pfizer press release. Up to 100 million doses could be distributed globally by the end of 2020 and approximately 1.3 billion by the end of 2021.

While it’s unknown what will come of the trial, the opportunity to participate allows Bozeman Health to take on COVID-19 in a new way.

“It would be great for us to contribute to a surprisingly effective vaccine in short order,” Williams said. “But I think it’s also giving a sense to the community that Bozeman Health is very vested in addressing the virus from many different dimensions.”

People interested in participating in the trial can visit CovidVaccineStudy.com or call 406-414-4475 for more information.

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Paul Schwedelson can be reached at pschwedelson@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2670. Follow him on Twitter @pschweds.