Science is on the cusp of a successful vaccine for COVID-19.
"This is exciting. We are seeing science expedited but expedited in an efficient manner," said Johns Hopkins lung doctor Panagis Galiatsatos.
But how fast this all happened has caused concern. Galiatsatos understands the worry. He said usually vaccinations can take 10 years, but in this case, there's no reason to worry.
"We’re not shortchanging anything. We are being very diligent about the safety of this vaccine," said Galiatsatos.
He said the amount of time and resources poured into these vaccines are unlike anything pre-COVID-19 and scientists were also able to draw from different coronavirus vaccinations from the last 20 years.
"The lessons learned there have allowed us to kind of skip multiple chapters ahead in the vaccine-making textbook, where we can feel confident to push forward multiple vaccinations right now," said Galiatsatos. "We’re the ones that cause vaccines to be developed slowly because we have to hire people. We have to find funding. We’ve been able to overcome that so that natural barriers of learning this virus, we’ve done already with its prior predecessors. The human barriers, we are overcoming that because a lot of the science community is coming together like we are all in this together. We gotta have a vaccine."
Two vaccines are in the last phase of trials in Maryland right now. One is a first-of-its-kind RNA vaccine.
"It takes a fat deposit, this lipid nano molecule, and inside it has genetic material that when it gets into a human being, that genetic material gets into our cells and reproduces some of the proteins into our body that our immune system can identify and make a memory for," said Galiatsatos.
The second is a more common vaccine, injecting a weakened virus to create an immune response.
Galiatsatos said they still need to recruit 30,000 patients for these trials and then monitor them for 3-6 months before they can see if they are successful. They are looking for 4 things: if it’s effective with 1 to 2 shots; if it can help the targeted population; if it can cause antibodies to be made and if it can stop viral transmission to cause herd immunity.
"The best-case scenario is in a year from now we can talk about did it work, so we are in the late summer 2021. Then we can talk about making it publicly available," said Galiatsatos.
So he said for the next year, acting based on what we know about COVID-19 is extremely important.
"To me, this is just a test of humanity. We’re better. We can all rise to the occasion and overcome this with the simple facts of knowing how this virus spreads and adapting ourselves to mitigate the spread of the virus," said Galiatsatos. We know how it spreads, through the air. We know to get infected you have to be in close proximity to someone or touch surfaces and bring them to your face."
That means continuing to social distance, wear masks, and wash your hands. And as we approach fall, preparing for a potential double hit with the flu.
"If patients are battling for influenza and coronavirus, you're taxing your immune system preparedness," said Galiatsatos.
Galiatsatos recommends getting the flu shot and asking your doctor if you're a candidate for the pneumonia vaccine.
Galiatsatos and his organization Medicine for the Greater Good are partnering with City Councilman Leon Pinkett to hold a virtual town hall Wednesday at 2 p.m. to go over more of this information and encourage people to sign up for the vaccine trials. That town hall will be live on Facebook.
Abby Isaacs first reported this story for WMAR in Baltimore, Maryland.