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ITM becomes research centre in vaccine study with registered COVID-19 vaccines

Wanted: volunteers for vaccination study with registered COVID-19 vaccines

Starting in May, the Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM) in Antwerp will kick off the IMCOVAS vaccine study, that will evaluate the effect and safety of different vaccination schedules or doses of already registered COVID-19 vaccines (Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca). ITM is one of the four test centres in Belgium where participants can enter the study, alongside the Centre for the Evaluation of Vaccination (University of Antwerp), the Centre for Vaccinology (University of Ghent) and Hôpital Erasme (Université Libre de Bruxelles). The study is led by the University of Antwerp and is funded by the government (Federal Knowledge Centre for Health).

Vaccines are an important tool to control an epidemic and protect the population. Although the vaccination campaign is on its way, the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines remains a delicate process that may cause delays. A more flexible vaccination schedule, where vaccines of different brands can be administered at a lower dose, or in a different schedule, may have great benefits in speeding up vaccination campaigns worldwide.

The IMCOVAS study will investigate whether vaccines already approved in Europe are equally effective when administered according to a different schedule or dosage than currently prescribed in the package leaflet. Dr Patrick Soentjens, study coordinator explains: “This study is evaluating a total of twelve different vaccine schedules with Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca. For example, full doses will be compared with half doses and with one fifth of the usual dose. Also, vaccine schedules in which a combination is given will be evaluated; for example, people starting with an initial Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and then receiving an AstraZeneca vaccine as a second dose."

ITM has decades of experience in fighting infectious diseases and containing epidemics. "I think it is very useful to participate in the IMCOVAS study. There are still many scientific questions. The study is designed so that we will soon know more about these alternative vaccination schemes and that is important for making decisions for our national policy," says Dr Patrick Soentjens.

For this study, 840 participants between the ages of 18 and 55 will be divided into twelve groups, each with their own schedule. The study starts in May 2021 and the first vaccination session will be scheduled before 21 June. It is important that the participants are sufficiently protected against COVID-19, therefore no placebos will be administered. If participants subsequently build up an insufficient immune response after vaccination, they will be offered an extra dose of the vaccine at short notice.

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