Vanderbilt vaccine expert weighs in on COVID-19 vaccine trials

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Leading researchers across the world are working to find a vaccine for COVID-19.

Kathryn Edwards, M.D., Scientific Director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program, spoke with News 2 about the status of clinical trials. Although those trials aren’t underway at Vanderbilt yet, Dr. Edwards expects that will happen soon.

“The vaccine activity is really up a lot currently,” Dr. Edwards said. “There are over 100 different vaccine candidates that are being proposed. Most of those are either in conceptual development, but about 70 are actually in preclinical development. What that means is they are being studied in animals to see whether they would make an immune response.”

At least five vaccines are already being studied in humans at sites in Seattle, Emory University in Atlanta, Oxford University in England and in China.

“This is pretty amazing that this is going this quickly because generally the preclinical studies that are done in animals, generally those take years,” Dr. Edwards said. “Here we have a virus that was just discovered months ago and here we have vaccines that are going into people.”

These vaccines are being fast-tracked because this is a novel coronavirus, so no one has immunity. Dr. Edwards said many of these COVID-19 vaccine candidates are using methods outside the norm; one is employing what’s called messenger RNA.

“Most of the time we inject proteins as vaccines, but this is very different. It tells the body how to make the protein and the protein is made by the body,” Dr. Edwards said.

Dr. Edwards said that means the vaccine causes the body to make a human protein, which could, in turn, make our bodies better at making immunity to the virus. She says these clinical trials will look to see if the vaccines are stimulating antibodies that act on the virus to kill it. They’ll also be looking for any possible reactions.

Dr. Edwards said she’s optimistic we will have a vaccine in the next year to 18 months, although she’s unsure how widely available it may be at that point.

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