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Latest coronavirus vaccine trials offer hope to rural communities

The promising data on Novavax so far is a glimmer of hope for rural areas facing wait times for vaccine shipments.

COMAL COUNTY, Texas — Medical researchers in San Antonio are recruiting 500 people to take part in local trials for another coronavirus vaccine candidate, this one from Novavax. 

The volunteers will be among 30,000 participating in Phase 3 of the international clinical trial. If approved, the Novavax vaccine would only require refrigeration, not special freezers.

The promising data so far is offering a glimmer of hope for rural areas facing wait times to receive vaccine shipments.

RELATED: 500 San Antonians needed for latest COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial

Comal County could potentially benefit if Novavax hits the market.

The first thing you see on the Comal County public health webpage this week is a notification that the department is out of coronavirus vaccines. The statement goes on to say there is no word when they could get more doses.

“The way the allocations are still working, we're not able to order vaccine yet,” said Cheryl Fraser, public health director for the county. “It's still whatever the state allots us.”

She explained to county commissioners Thursday that her office was not on the list to receive doses this week and is hoping for better news when next week’s list is released.

Otherwise, when week six of state distribution arrives, all vaccines coming in will be second doses for those who already received their initial shots at the public health department.

From the start, New Braunfels hospital workers have been able to get vaccines at sister facilities in San Antonio.

When the Moderna vaccine was approved, a few local facilities received doses for frontline workers first and then allowed to open to people in Tier 1B.

But in order to meet demand for the vaccine, the area will need more doses; thousands more.

If approved, the Novavax vaccine could help meet the need.

“If it proves to be effective in preventing the coronavirus, (that) means it will be a really important tool in our toolkit, specifically for smaller community clinics or rural areas or lower-middle income countries that don’t have capacity to freeze vaccine,” said Dr. Barbara Taylor of UT Health San Antonio, the principal investigator of the local Novavax study site.

For now, Comal County doesn’t expect coronavirus vaccines to be available for the general public until late February/early March or as late as May.