Houston doctors began working on coronavirus vaccine a decade ago

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Houston's renowned medical center is full of brilliant minds, medical research, and part of the efforts to get a COVID-19 vaccine. From involvement in a huge clinical trial, to actually creating a vaccine, a lot is happening thanks to the doctors and scientists right here.

With the urgency to get a COVID-19 vaccine, just a few manufacturers are already in phase three clinical trials - meaning they're far along in the process.

One of them is the Moderna trial.

"It was an expedited process," said Dr. Hana El Sahly, associate professor of molecular virology and microbiology and medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

Dr. El Sahly is at the forefront of the trial on a national level and helped get it going.

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"Reviewing the related documents, the communications that sort of laid the ground for the process of getting the study started," Dr. El Sahly said.

It's a big trial too, with 30,000 participants at more than 90 sites across the country.

You can watch extensive coverage of the efforts to create a COVID-19 vaccine on ABC13's connected TV apps on Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV and Android TV.

"The path of the epidemic so far has been unpredictable, so that's why the clinical trial has more than 90 sites enrolling in different geographic distributions," she said.

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With each participant, they will gather data on how they're doing along the way.

"We will follow everyone and if they get symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, we will test them. Some will turn out positive (and) some will turn out negative," said Dr. El Sahly.

That will show them, in part, if the vaccine is working. The Moderna trial is part of Operation Warp Speed, a government partnership with private manufacturers to get a vaccine quickly.

Meanwhile, another Houstonian is working to ensure other parts of the world get a vaccine too.

"Everyone has heard about Operation Warp Speed, which is about half a dozen new vaccines for COVID-19, including three that are in phase three clinical trials now, and that's a really important program but there's still a need for additional vaccines, especially low cost, easily accessible vaccines for global health," said Dr. Peter Hotez, M.D., Ph.D., Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

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That's where Dr. Hotez and his colleagues come in. About a decade ago, they started working on coronavirus vaccines.

"We were able to build on our decade of experience developing coronavirus vaccines for diseases such as SARS," said Dr. Hotez.

They are creating their own vaccine and recently partnered with a large vaccine producer in India that has the capacity and scale to produce a billion doses. Hotez isn't just interested in eradicating the virus in the U.S., he wants to ensure the rest of the world isn't left behind. The vaccine still has to go through clinical trials.

Hotez hopes it is available by late summer of next year.

"It's so fulfilling to be able to use science to achieve humanitarian goals and we're so worried about people who live in low-income communities across different parts of the world," said Dr. Hotez.
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