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INTERVIEW: Receiving sustained research funding is vital to stem the tide of coronavirus, says Gregory Poland, vaccine research director at Mayo Clinic

"We don't expect any licensed vaccines for another year or more, probably more," stated Poland

Ashraf Amin , Monday 16 Mar 2020
Dr. Gregory Poland
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Dr Gregory Poland, a professor of medicine and director of the Vaccine Research Group at Mayo Clinic, stressed the importance of personal protective measures to reduce infection rates, the necessity of sustained research funding in the field of virology and cooperation between countries to conduct clinical trials and extract valid antivirals and vaccines.

In addition to global precautionary measures, what else could be done to reduce disease propagation?

The most important thing you can do is take personal protective measures. Wash your hands. Nobody washes their hands properly. I've never seen proper handwashing except among surgeons and a few others. Hand washing is very effective. So is staying away from anyone who is ill, cancelling large gatherings, staying calm and insisting others stay calm too. And get a flu shot. 

What is to be expected if infections gain momentum in the weeks to come?

I think we're going to continue to see widespread transmission that will evolve into community transmission. Mathematical models are saying 40 to 70 percent (of Americans) may get Covid-19. I think that's high. I'm hoping that when we get into summer, it will dampen down and disappear. There's no way to tell what will happen. The real risk at this point is not for kids and young adults, but for people aged 50, 60 and older or people who have other underlying conditions. The older you are, the greater the risk. The more comorbidities there are, the greater the risk.

How long will it take to approve vaccines and medical treatments for Covid-19? 

In the United States, there are no licensed antivirals or vaccines. We don't expect any licensed vaccines for another year or more, probably more. We've been saying any vaccines developed now will be for the next outbreak. With antivirals, there are two ways to get them – by discovering new antivirals or repurposing current antivirals. Clinical trials are taking place now, but there is no data yet.

Are the cured cases vulnerable to contract coronavirus again?

The answer is most likely yes, but probably not in the same year. We haven't had this strain long enough. With the other four human coronaviruses, immunity wanes after one to three years. If this is like those other coronaviruses, then the answer is likely yes.

Could the network of scientific institutes collaborate to expedite the process and reduce the time interval for launching a vaccine? If yes, how?

Collaboration is always helpful. More important is receiving sustained research funding. Had we taken this seriously 18 years ago with SARS, we would have antivirals and vaccines. Regardless of what happens with this virus, they need to fund ongoing work. When countries cooperate so you can rapidly hold clinical trials according to preplanned protocol, we can learn very rapidly and help people.

 

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