BY: KIM HASTY
Even as a little girl growing up in Germany, Judith Borger always knew she wanted to help people. For a while, that meant teaching them how to keep the tips of their skis from crossing or the importance of keeping their knees bent while snowboarding.
“I was recruited to be a ski and snowboard instructor, and I worked at Sunday River in Maine,” she said. “I’ve really always valued the interaction with people.”
You might say that since her ski instructor days, she’s gone from helping people navigate the moguls on the slopes to helping them navigate the bumps in life. Borger, D.O., is an emergency room doctor with Cape Fear Valley Health system, serves as research director for the medical center’s residency program and is the principal investigator in a research study that could help change the world.
Cape Fear Valley Health is partnering with Wake Research of Raleigh and the Carolina Institute for Clinical Research to conduct clinical research trials for COVID vaccines, COVID diagnostic testing and inpatient and outpatient care for patients with COVID-19. Carolina Institute for Clinical Research is a joint research venture between Cape Fear Valley Health and Wake Research, a national network of clinical research facilities.
The trial, which began in late July, is ongoing. Fayetteville is one of the six locations affiliated with Wake Research to participate in the phase 3 trial of the vaccine. The others are Raleigh, San Diego, Dallas, Las Vegas and Chattanooga, Tennesee. Globally, Moderna has 89 sites participating in vaccine trials. The vaccine, known as mRNA-1273, was co-developed by the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotechnology company Moderna, Inc. and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health.
“This is a nationwide trial and currently one of the most talked about,” Borger, 40, said. “There was a very rigorous process to get selected for this. Not only did we get selected, but we’re also performing very well in the trial. On monitored visits, we’ve gotten very good feedback about the standard that we’ve adhered to.
“From a research perspective,” she said, “to be involved in a major clinical trial is huge.”
Matt Irving, a Fayetteville IT specialist with Cape Fear Valley, is one of the participants in the trial. Trial volunteers receive two injections approximately 28 days apart. Participants are randomly assigned to receive either two injections of the vaccine or two shots of a saline placebo. The trial is blinded, so the investigators and the participants will not know who is assigned to which group.
Volunteers are still needed. Anyone interested can text COVID to 910-463-5578.
“We are looking for people at risk,” Borger said. “For example, healthcare workers, law enforcement officers, even restaurant workers and retail workers, as well as minorities and people with chronic medical conditions.”
Irving, who has asthma, and his mother and his spouse are all in the high-risk category for COVID, so he was glad to participate.
“Everyone at the center was amazing,” he said. He is expected to keep a journal of any symptoms and his temperature, but likely won’t know for two years whether he received the vaccine.
As for Borger, she said she is honored to be able to put her research skills to use in the hope of finding a vaccine. A mother of three, she’s nevertheless putting in long hours during the trials.
“I feel privileged to be able to contribute in all these ways,” she said. “I feel like it’s my duty as a citizen who has this skill set. This is my way of contributing.”
Borger said it’s an honor, too, for Cape Fear Valley to be on the cutting edge of such important work. She credits that opportunity to the vision administrators had when they partnered with Campbell University’s School of Osteopathic Medicine to establish the medical center’s residency program.
“I think that program has elevated the scientific rigor at Cape Fear Valley,” she said. “Cape Fear Valley has always had great clinicians, but the residency program has really elevated the level of care and attracted new clinicians.
“It’s great for the community to have all these new clinicians,” she said. “Having a residency program does a lot for a community. Kudos to the administration to have had the vision to make Cape Fear an academic medical center and we’ve gotten there in a few years versus decades. This is one of the payoffs for that vision. I have a career now that I don’t think I could have anywhere else.”