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New Windsor woman volunteers for NIH-run COVID-19 vaccine trial: ‘I would love to be a part of the solution’

Melissa Ruff didn’t need much time to count herself among the participants for a national trial that might be able to help put an end to the coronavirus.

Ruff, a licensed clinical social worker who lives in New Windsor, has logged her share of professional research hours in the mental health care industry. When she heard about a government-funded investigative vaccine initiative that might have the potential to thwart COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, Ruff said she reached out to volunteer.

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“I would love to be a part of the solution,” said Ruff, who owns Carroll Therapy Associates in Eldersburg.

New Windsor resident Melissa Ruff is taking part in a nationwide clinical trial for a potential COVID-19 vaccine.
New Windsor resident Melissa Ruff is taking part in a nationwide clinical trial for a potential COVID-19 vaccine. (Courtesy Photo/Melissa Ruff)

The National Institutes of Health is partnering with Moderna, a Massachusetts-based pharmaceutical company, to conduct a clinical trial. This latest phase began in late July, and Ruff said it’s a 25-month process that involves vaccinations in test patients.

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The vaccine directs the body’s cells to express the spike protein to elicit a broad immune response, according to the online data. Moderna initiated its own testing of the vaccine in May.

The first phase found the protein-based vaccine, known as mRNA-1273, to be safe, well tolerated and able to induce antibodies with high levels of virus-neutralizing activity, according to the NIH website.

Ruff said she traveled to the NIH in Rockville on Saturday, Aug. 15, to get her first vaccination, and she doesn’t have reservations about participating in the study. Ruff spent time as a research assistant for University of Maryland’s School of Medicine prior to serving as the director of social work at Carroll Lutheran Village for close to 10 years.

Ruff has also served as a social worker with Access Carroll Integrated Health Care in Westminster for the past three years.

“I trust that all the research studies these days are very much reviewed by ethical committees,” she said. “I know how much oversight is involved in these research studies. ... So that makes me more comfortable.”

The NIH Coronavirus Prevention Network is conducting the trial, and the NIH website shows 89 clinical research sites across the country as taking part. Investigators will use public health data and incidence trajectory modeling to identify sustained high-incidence areas and emerging hot zones, according to the website, so sites near these locations can be prioritized for enrollment.

“Having a safe and effective vaccine distributed by the end of 2020 is a stretch goal, but it’s the right goal for the American people,” Dr. Francis S. Collins, NIH director, said in a statement on the website. “The launch of this Phase 3 trial in record time while maintaining the most stringent safety measures demonstrates American ingenuity at its best and what can be done when stakeholders come together with unassailable objectivity toward a common goal.”

Ruff said having her mother isolated in an assisted living facility in Columbia amid the pandemic has been challenging, so her hope is that a potential vaccine can end the need for quarantines like that.

“I was excited to do it,” she said. “We actually are pushing this so quickly and not messing around with waiting for years and years and years. We’re actually working on the vaccine locally.”

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