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UW virologist: Vaccine trials appear safe and effective, more testing needed

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

It seems like every week we’re hearing about potential coronavirus vaccine trials and there are numerous therapies being explored. Are any of them promising developments? Dr. Keith Jerome is the head of the UW Virology Lab and joined Seattle’s Morning News to discuss.

“I think one thing that people are getting an insight to that might be new for them is just a view into how science works. In terms of therapeutics, we’re trying to find more new and better drugs, and so a lot of drugs are being what we call ‘repurposed.’ They’re drugs that may be used for something else and there’s a reason to think they may help against COVID,” Jerome said.

“What’s different here is everybody’s getting news so early in the process, and so there’s good news and there’s bad news, and one day it’s up and down, and, frankly, that’s the life of a scientist and researcher, that you get these leads and they look good. And then things usually don’t pan out.”

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There are several vaccine trials at the moment, and many are having mild effects on people and appear promising, though bigger clinical trials are needed.

“There’s a lot of companies working on vaccines. … Moderna will be first, followed pretty closely by one from AstraZeneca. What we know is that they’re relatively safe. People get sore arms and sometimes some chills and things when they take them, but it seems to be pretty mild. But we do know that the people getting the vaccines make antibodies, and that’s what we need in order to fight off the infection,” he said.

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“This is all good news that we’ve got several different kinds of vaccines all sort of pulling toward the same target in different ways, and they all seem to be working right now,” he added. “We need to test them in these bigger trials, make sure they’re really safe in larger groups of people and that they protect.”

So are we in a position to safely open in-person schools this year?

“I think that’s going to be tough. I sure hope so. I think to do that safely, we’ve really got to get the virus more under control. I think there’s just too many cases and too much community spread right now, and even here in Washington, we’ve seen an increase in the last couple of weeks,” he said.

“Maybe that’s flattening out. Now it looks like people have sort of redoubled their efforts. But in other parts of the country, it’s still not under control. And it’s really scary to think about bringing 25 to 30 to 35 kids into a crowded classroom that may not be well ventilated, and even with the younger ones, they may not get very sick. But it’s becoming pretty clear that they get infected, and they make a lot of virus, and they can spread it to others,” Jeroma explained. “So we don’t want to do anything that’s going to make this whole situation worse.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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