Jen Ezpeleta

Volunteers for a vaccine: Like many who volunteer for Dr. Lawrence Sher’s COVID-19 vaccine trials, the author lost a loved one to the disease

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Dr. Lawrence Sher of Peninsula Research Associates with staff members Jordan Wertheimer (VP of Clinical Operations), Dr. Sher, Kristen Currie (clinical research coordinator) and Heather Mendoza (clinical research coordinator). Photo courtesy of Peninsula Research Associates

by Pat Brewster 

I met Dr. Lawrence Sher in mid April. My husband had fallen ill. He was hospitalized, tested positive for COVID-19, and, tragically, a few days after coming home from the hospital, he died. I felt fortunate in having him home during his final days. Since I had been with him while he was contagious, I was at high risk of also having contracted the virus. So, I went to Dr. Sher’s Palos Verdes Medical Group to be tested, and fortunately tested negative.

Dr. Sher is conducting a vaccine trial that could help lead to controlling the COVID-19 pandemic that took the life of my husband and over 200,000 other Americans. 

Dr. Sher grew up in Huntington Beach. His parents owned a furniture store and had not gone to college. However, they pushed him to pursue higher education and to help others. 

After graduating from medical school at the University of Utah, Dr. Sher trained for seven years at UCLA. Research became the focus of his training. He loved being at the forefront of medical discoveries. 

Dr. Sher opened his medical practice in Palos Verdes in the late ‘80s and in 1999 began his research practice with a study about antibiotics for sinus disease. In the 21 years since, he has conducted over 400 studies and lectured on his findings around the world.

His work has helped lead to FDA approval for numerous drugs and medical devices.

In 2014, Dr. Sher combined Palos Verdes Medical Group office and his Peninsula Research Associates office into a single location at the Promenade.

He enjoys both being a physician and a researcher, equally. “My work is a good fit for me. I get to be with people, to teach, and to help.”

The vaccine he is presently conducting trials for was created by Sanofi and Glaxo Smith Kline and is designed to stimulate the body to develop antibodies against COVID-19. 

All vaccine trials currently underway are based on building antibodies against the spike protein, the protein on the envelope or “coat” of the SARs-Cov-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. Once the sequence of the gene was understood, immunologists and microbiologists were able to develop  strategies to convince the body to form antibodies that would fight SARS-Cov-2.

Dr. Lawrence Sher and wife Elena with son Matthew and daughters Sasha and Danielle. Photo courtesy of Peninsula Research Associates

Dr. Sher stressed that the search for a vaccine is not a race. There is a need to develop multiple vaccines to supply all the people who will need it throughout the world. He notes that vaccines will not be fully protective against the disease. But hopefully, they will minimize the severity of the disease.

“We need maybe six or seven different vaccines to fill the worldwide need,” he said. 

Dr. Sher’s first COVID-19 trial began in September. A total of 440 healthy volunteers from 10 different locations around the U.S. participated. Seventy-three of them were Dr. Sher’s volunteers. The ratio of vaccine to placebo was six to one, meaning five of six volunteers  received an injection of the vaccine, and one in six received a placebo. I was one of the volunteers for Dr. Sher during this stage of the trial.

At first, I was hesitant to volunteer. Were there going to be a lot of shots? It turned out I only needed one. Was I going to need a COVID-19 test, with its uncomfortable nasal swab? I happily learned no nasal swab was required unless, of course, I developed symptoms of the virus. Was there any danger of receiving a small trace of the virus? No, the vaccine simply contains a compound to stimulate the production of antibodies.

I filled out a lot of forms, and had baseline measurements for height, weight, blood pressure, blood and urine. Dr. Sher said this is typical of any trial. Then I was given a thermometer and a ruler and for a week I had to keep daily records of my temperature and other measurements. I periodically returned for follow-up visits.

Frankly, it was simple. I felt like I was doing something to vanquish this virus that claimed my husband’s life. Dr. Sher told me that 90 percent or more of his volunteers do so because they want to help others.

“We can’t place all our hopes in vaccines,” he cautioned. “Vaccines may offer only 70 percent to 80 percent protection. So we will still need to keep one another safe. I know people are getting quarantine-weary, but the only way to eradicate this disease is to prevent it when possible, trace all occurrences, and for doctors to regularly check on patients so that they don’t feel they are all alone. Meanwhile, people need to be convinced to socialize only in their own little bubble, with the same people. They must minimize contact with others until we have vaccines and better medications. We will do that. There are a lot of bright people out there working on this,” he said.

Many medical trials fail for lack of a sufficient number of volunteers. Dr. will conduct a second COVID-19 vaccine trial in November, again using a non-virus compound and requiring a different group of 440, healthy volunteers. A third trial, scheduled for December, will involve 30,000 volunteers from 100 locations throughout the country. In this last trial, volunteers will be given a vaccine that has already been tested for safety in the first trial.

Anyone, 18 or older, healthy or with underlying health conditions, is encouraged to apply for the third trial. Some will receive a placebo, but those who receive the trial vaccine will have the potential to protect themselves, and contribute to wiping out this devastating disease.

To volunteer for the December trial, fill out the interest form at Peninsularesearch.com/contact-me-about-studies. 

The form does not commit you to the study. It simply lets researchers know if you will qualify. 

You may also see if you qualify by emailing the Palos Verdes Medical Group at info@peninsularesearch.com or calling the research team at (310)265-1623. PEN

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