It’s been all hands on deck since Jan. 10 at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, WRAIR, working to develop a vaccine against the COVID-19 coronavirus, now responsible for 91,000 illnesses and at least 3,000 deaths worldwide.
The date marks the first publication of the virus’s genetic makeup — its sequence — which gave scientists a better understanding of its makeup and how it causes a potentially deadly disease.
At WRAIR, Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, the institute’s director for emerging infectious diseases, immediately put his team to work, ordering materials needed to develop the design for a potential vaccine and prepare for testing it, starting with mice.
“We have been working on this since the beginning of the outbreak. If we hadn’t done that, we’d be a month behind,” Modjarrad said Wednesday during an interview with Military Times.
For more than six weeks, WRAIR and U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command personnel have been working on research efforts to control, contain and prevent the virus, to include developing a new diagnostic test.
Modjarrad and Dr. Sheila Peel, director of WRAIR’s diagnostics and countermeasures branch, said that with large numbers of troops living in close quarters, as well as the illness’s potential impact on readiness, the Defense Department must have rapid test kits and a potential vaccine in the pipeline.
When the virus was first confirmed in the U.S. on Jan. 31, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s procedures called for individuals to be tested on site and the results sent to CDC for interpretation. In early February, the CDC began shipping tests to state health labs to run their own results, but many of those tests failed, resulting in false negatives.
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