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As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to unfold, the development and testing of vaccine candidates to prevent COVID-19 has become a paramount public health priority. The Laboratory of Infectious Disease Prevention (Project ACHIEVE) of the New York Blood Center has joined the global call-to-action to test new vaccines that may prevent infection from severe acute respiratory coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19 disease.

The COVID-19 vaccine clinical research trials conducted at the NYBC are led by Dr. Hong Van Tieu (Head of the Laboratory of Infectious Disease Prevention/Project ACHIEVE) and supported by co-investigator Dr. Jorge Soler, site coordinator Sauda Muhammad, community engagement and recruitment manager Rashaad Banks, and a diverse and experienced research team, with funding support of up to $13 million from the NIH/NIAID-sponsored COVID-19 Prevention Network (COVPN).

Project ACHIEVE has an extensive history conducting research spanning all phases of HIV vaccine clinical research. This experience, along with its longstanding work in community engagement in diverse, minority communities throughout New York City, led to its selection by the COVPN as a study site for both AstraZeneca AZD1222 and Janssen Ensemble Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine clinical studies.  Globally, study sites will recruit and enroll 40,000 to 60,000 volunteers into each trial and follow them for a period of two years to evaluate long-term vaccine safety, tolerability, and efficacy.

An efficacious vaccine would prevent infection, but efficacy is also measured in the vaccine’s ability to prevent severe disease even among those who become infected.  When SARS-CoV-2 enters the body, the spike proteins on its surface interact with angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE2) receptors on the surface of human cells and, in lock-and-key fashion, enter human cells through these receptors. One way to block this process with a vaccine is by stimulating the production of antibodies that bind to the spike protein and prevent it from interacting with ACE2 receptors.

While the focus of this research is on finding a vaccine that works, this is only half of the goal.  A vaccine is useful only to the extent that the general public trusts and believes in its use.  For Project ACHIEVE, educating and preparing communities to enhance uptake of a licensed vaccine to prevent COVID-19 in the future is the other half of the goal.  We conduct community outreach across diverse communities in NYC, providing education and raising awareness around our work and building our reputation as a trusted source of information.

Our recent opening of a satellite site at 230 West 17th Street and launch of two mobile van sites (in partnership with the COVPN, Matrix Medical, and the Columbia Research Unit) in Jackson Heights, Queens and East Flatbush, Brooklyn allow us to have expansive reach into communities that have been especially hard hit by the local COVID-19 epidemic.  To learn more about our research and community outreach programming, visit our website at ProjectAchieve.org, email us at [email protected], or call us at 212-388-0008.