March 28, 2020


"I don't think I've ever seen anything like this": what it's like to be working on a Covid-19 vaccine (Kate Young / March 24, 2020, The Prospect)

Dad, you've been working with vaccines for 44 years now; in what ways does this feel different?

I've had a fairly wide-ranging career in many aspects of virology, but all of it has been at my own pace. What's different this time is that we have a challenge: a challenge that presents a real and present threat to the global population.

We've been working towards this for almost eight years now, trialling versions of this specific vaccine delivery system [the molecular clamp technology] with a number of different virus systems and groups, looking at how effectively we might be able to develop a generic approach to vaccine design.

What's different now is that we have an endpoint we have to get to in what will turn out to be a record time for a vaccine.

A lot of the tangents we used to go down--the rabbit holes of discovery research that are typical of a laboratory--are not the ones we're taking. We're incredibly focused, with that singular goal in mind.

Everything is changing incredibly quickly at the moment, and it's difficult to predict what the next year looks like. But in a best-case scenario, what do you hope for?

I am a great believer in flattening the curve--that's really important. The reasoning is very simple: through appropriate public health measures, you're minimizing the rapid spread of the virus through the community.

If you do that, you will prevent a huge load of individuals presenting to a medical infrastructure that just doesn't have the capacity to deal with those numbers.

At the very earliest, I don't see vaccines, even under very accelerated conditions, being available within twelve months. And so, a vaccine may not impact this first wave. 

Where it probably will have an impact is in a second wave. All the pandemics we've seen in the past, which includes the Spanish Flu of 1918-19, have seen a second and even third wave of infection. We may ultimately see this virus establishing itself as one of the many respiratory infections we all encounter each winter season. [...]

For people trying to avoid the clickbait/social media news cycle at the moment, what do you recommend they start reading?

What I read are colleagues who I trust. I think they give good information in a digestible form but, like me, they're scientists, and might be a bit difficult to access.

The best information in terms of disease reports and advice, is probably the CDC (Centre for Disease Control) website in the US. It's always had a reputation for being very sensible and down to earth, because it's meant to be for public consumption. That and the WHO (World Health Organisation) site, of course. 

Posted by at March 28, 2020 8:15 AM