MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Vice President Mike Pence paid a visit to the University of Miami on Monday to mark the beginning of Phase 3 trials for a coronavirus vaccine.

University of Miami researchers are enrolling 1,000 people in the next round of clinical trials that are hoped to lead to a vaccine that can be provided to Americans later this year or early next year. The university is one of 89 sites across the country participating in trials of a vaccine co-developed by the biotech firm Moderna and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

About 30,000 people are expected to participate in the clinical trials in the coming months.

“Today is a day of hope, today is a day of promise, today is a tribute to American ingenuity,” Pence told reporters.

Pence’s visit to the university’s Miller School of Medicine with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis marked the third time the vice president has come to the state during the past month.

Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a press conference at the the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine on July 27, 2020 in Miami, Florida. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis stands behind Vice President Pence.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Dr. Susanne Doblecki-Lewis, the principal investigator for the Miller School of Medicine, said half of the 1,000 people who will be included in the clinical trial will be given the vaccine and the other half will be given a placebo. The vaccine is given in two doses 28 days apart. She said the university will track people who received the vaccine for two years following administration of the second dose to determine whether the vaccine works.

“Here at the University of Miami we are very aware of the need to shape our enrollment (in the clinical trial) to reflect our strength, which is the diversity of our population here, and particularly the diversity of the people who are at high risk for COVID-19. We take that mandate very seriously,” Doblecki-Lewis said.

To volunteer for the clinical trials, click here.  You must be 18 or older.

The vice president’s visit comes as Florida this weekend overtook New York as the state with the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases. Miami-Dade County has been one of the epicenters of the virus in the state. The county reported 2,560 new cases on Monday for a total of 107,315 and 1,404 total deaths.

As for a vaccine, Pence said federal authorities had ramped up the normal time it takes to develop a vaccine, in part by assisting financially. However, Pence and Stephen Hahn, a physician and commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said that an expedited time frame wouldn’t result in an untested, unsafe vaccine. Hahn said only scientists would “call the balls and strikes” related to vaccine development.

“FDA scientists in our Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research will not cut corners. Let me just stress that — will not cut corners in order to evaluate a vaccine,” Hahn said.

Even though Pence’s visit was focused on COVID-19, the optics of the trip became political fodder for Republicans and Democrats. Democrats blasted Pence’s visit and continued to hammer DeSantis for pushing to reopen brick-and-mortar schools. They also faulted him for reopening the state’s economy too soon.

“The vice president’s visit is just a mere distraction, trying to highlight what they think is a Hail Mary approach to dealing with this crisis by finding a vaccine instead of doing the hard work and taking care of the basics that are absolutely essential to get this pandemic under control,” state Rep. Javier Fernandez, D-South Miami, said.

If the vaccine works, the FDA will approve. The CDC has a task of finding out who gets injected first. The focus may be on the most vulnerable.

A research officer says he expects to know if it works in 6 months.

“It’s always better to air on the safe side. But with the early promising results, I think we can be a little bit optimistic,” Dr. Ihor Sawczuk with Hackensack Meridian Health said.

(©2020 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.)

Ty Russell

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