The pandemic has taught us many lessons over the past 20 months. The critical need to find a safe and effective vaccine was one of the most important. Dr. Christopher Lucasti, Infectious Disease Division Chief at Shore Medical Center, was an integral part of the clinical trial and the effort that resulted in the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine.
Dr. Lucasti, began working in clinical trials just out of medical school when the need was critical to find treatments for HIV. He has continued with that mission and his practice has been involved with more than 100 clinical trials for antibiotics and other medications over the last 25 years, helping to bring treatment and cures to patients who need them. Initially, HIV positive patients were not permitted in the vaccine trial but after two months Dr. Lucasti said HIV patients who were on treatment and whose viral load was undetectable were permitted to take part in the clinical trial.
Because of his success with previous clinical trials, Dr. Lucasti said Pfizer reached out to him and asked if his office would be interested in being a part of their clinical trial for the mRNA vaccine they had developed. “We were the only Pfizer Covid-19 clinical testing site in the Philadelphia area and only one of two in New Jersey,” said Dr. Lucasti.
In August and September of last year, Dr. Lucasti enrolled 150 patients in the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine study. The participants had to meet certain criteria before being considered for the vaccine, according to Dr. Lucasti. They could not have already had Covid-19, nor could the participants have any disease that could suppress their immune system. Dr. Lucasti said a number of the volunteer trial participants included surgeons and physicians at Shore Medical Center eager to help find a successful vaccine to combat Covid-19.
The clinical trial was a “blind” study, Dr. Lucasti explained, and the 150 participants did not know if they received a placebo or the actual Pfizer vaccine. Those in the study were monitored after receiving the vaccine for reactions. Once the study was complete and the emergency use authorization was permitted by the Federal Drug Administration, the study conducted was “unblinded.” “The people in the study wanted to know if they had gotten a shot of the actual Covid-19 vaccine and those that received the placebo were given the opportunity to get the true vaccine,” added Lucasti.
Dr. Lucasti said he and his staff have been involved with clinical trials on about 90 percent of the antibiotics that have been released in the past two decades. “We work with the pharmaceutical companies, and we enroll patients that we feel have a chance to benefit from a new medication to treat their disease or infection.” As an infectious disease physician, Dr. Lucasti said he loves what he does. “In my field, we have the opportunity to cure patients. In many fields, the doctor can help a patient manage their disease very successfully but my hope is that if you come to me with an infection, and after treatment, their problem is resolved and cured. They leave and go on with their lives and that is something that is very special to me. Maybe I will never see them again, and that is a good thing. They are cured and curing patients has always been my goal.”