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As COVID-19 Vaccine Phase 3 Trials Begin, Experts Say It’s ‘Important To Be Realistic'

Hans Pennink
Phlebotomy technician Nicole Croft, left, takes a blood sample from volunteer Melissa Harting before an injection as the world's biggest study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc.


On today's program: A possible COVID-19 vaccine moves into Phase 3 trials, but it could be another minimum of six months until Americans get the drug; the chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is pushing for a system-wide redesign; and a brief history of the Pittsburgh left. 

mRNA vaccine for the coronavirus moves to new trial phase
(00:00 — 9:58)

A COVID-19 experimental vaccine enters Phase 3 trials this week. Roughly 30,000 Americans, including several hundred from Western Pennsylvania, will participate in this study. 

The drug comes from biotech company Moderna and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health. 

President Trump has called for a vaccine to be distributed in the U.S. by the end of the year. While researchers race to develop a vaccine, Paul Duprex, director of the Center for Vaccine Research at the University of Pittsburgh, says that timeline is incredibly ambitious.

"But it's good to be ambitious, but it is also very important to be realistic,” and most importantly he says, the vaccine must be safe.

If approved, this vaccine would be the first to use the Messenger RNA genetic material. mRNA vaccines trick the body into producing the virus proteins, allowing the immune system to make antibodies against the virus. Duprex says that when the person does come in contact with the virus, the mRNA vaccine would help their body combat it more quickly.

“Whenever a person comes in contact with the virus a second time, they will already have antibodies,” he says. 

Pennsylvania’s state-owned universities look to make changes as enrollment declines
(10:00 — 14:27)

Enrollment at the 14 state-owned universities has dropped by 20 percent in the last decade.Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education ChancellorDaniel Greenstein wants a system-wide redesign that he says would give students more options.


“So this is about growth and opportunity, it’s not about cost-cutting and financial decline,” he tells 90.5 WESA’sSarah Schneider. “In Pennsylvania, we estimate that 60 percent of the workforce today requires some form of post-secondary education; currently we’re at 47 percent. We have to educate more people, not fewer, in order to keep the lights on in the economy.”


PASSHE will study how it could integrate services and academic programs across its 14 state-owned universities this fall.


How the Pittsburgh Left became a part of city driving
(14:30 — 17:47)


Pittsburgh is challenging to navigate. It developed from a hodgepodge of former boroughs and municipalities, and its hills and river valleys prevented planners from creating a traditional street grid. On top of that, local drivers have some idiosyncratic behaviors.


For theGood Question! series, 90.5 WESA’sKatie Blackley reports on the murky history of the Pittsburgh Left


The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Julia Zenkevich is a general assignment reporter for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at jzenkevich@wesa.fm.
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