WRAL Special: Our Best Shot
"Our Best Shot" airs on WRAL and WILM Monday, Nov. 22 at 7:30 p.m. and on WRAZ Sunday, Dec. 5 at 6:30 p.m.
mhm Health officials are working to pinpoint the source of the virus, Ground zero A market in Wuhan. The new coronavirus is rapid rise in china in december 2019 got the attention of Duke researchers. I think it caught us all by surprise just how fast everything went down. Duke Human vaccine institute quickly shifted gears, helping develop covid testing and setting up clinical trials for new vaccines were uniquely placed to be able to respond to pandemics. And it's already working on a new vaccine to help prevent future pandemics. That's a vaccine that would hopefully have some efficacy against the next coronavirus outbreak. The speed at which the current vaccines were made have some reluctant to take them about a quarter of eligible americans still haven't gotten their first shot. It is very frustrating because I just don't understand the arguments against taking the vaccine, a vaccine that wasn't really made in a matter of months. The work has actually been going on for many, many years giving us all our best shot at ending the pandemic hospitals in Wuhan under resourced and overwhelmed people anxious about the mysterious virus that has triggered extraordinary measures across china to contain it. As the new virus spread across china in late 2019. In early 2020 researchers at Duke University's human vaccine institute were paying attention. The coronavirus wasn't really a focus of what we were doing here. So we all had to get up to speed very, very quickly. There were a lot of papers that were reading a lot of conversations that were had. But honestly, the moment that we do, it was going to be an issue. We also knew that we were a group that was really poised to do something about the antibodies are able to. The institute is a collection of laboratories employing nearly 200 researchers. We work both on vaccines as well as just basic biology to try to understand how infection occurs and then how the body fights it off. And by understanding how that basic mechanism works, we can then design countermeasures be at antibodies or vaccines that can employ those same types of mechanisms. At first Duke researchers thought the new virus might be like the first SARS outbreak of 20 years ago that virus was less transmissible. So easier to isolate. That wasn't the case with this new coronavirus dubbed SARS Kobe to authorities confirmed the virus can be transmitted from human to human through coughing sneezing or other personal contact. And so it quickly became evident that that type of virus was going to be a lot harder to stop. The vaccine was really going to be necessary early on the virus quickly spread across the country and hospital intensive care unit started filling up with patients including ones here in north Carolina. There was a huge amount of research that had already been done on coronavirus is because of the SARS and MERS outbreaks that had already happened. So really a lot of the basic research that would have been needed to figure out like how do you even make a vaccine against the coronavirus that had already been done. The federal government was already working with pharmaceutical companies on vaccines. So the institute looked ahead. It's suspected that the new SARS Kobe two virus would mutate. So what we decided to do was to not compete with what was just starting but to look ahead to making vaccines that might be used for boosters and might be used against mutants that would mutate away from the current uh, current vaccines that were being made. The institute collected antibodies from infected people to begin that work. It also helped with clinical trials for the new vaccines and treatments being developed. We have a clinical trials unit within the institute that really became instrumental in some of the early trials to test different interventions to see if they were able to stop the Covid 19 disease. And we also had a group here that really kicked into high gear and started doing testing. And so testing became one of the major roles that we served. Researchers think this trial could lead to an emergency FDA vaccine approval by september will take longer to ramp up production and rollout when vaccines did roll out in january 2021 My wife and I got ours as soon as we could have you tested positive for COVID-19 have been instructed to isolate in last 10 days. I have not. We were both 65 and had underlying health conditions have 65 going to be 66 in August. So we're trying to encourage folks to take the shot. I got my first shot January 15 at the Cumberland County Health Department's drive through clinic at the Crown Coliseum. She's giving me the shot right now. Um, I don't even feel the needle at all. We received our second shots on february 10. No la that pops the first time. No longer pops the second time. But hey, it's official got the second shot here in august. I had 10 people at my house to celebrate my birthday. Everyone said they were vaccinated but six of us got breakthrough infections including my wife and me. We took every precaution delta variant does not care. My wife and four others were able to recover at home. I unfortunately did not fare as well. Now I'm stable because I'm just sitting here. But if I get up and move around, I started having a coughing fits and breathing difficulties. I spent nine days in the hospital but recovered thanks to being vaccinated. Researchers say no vaccine is 100% effective and breakthrough infections like mine should not discourage people from getting them all. The data is showing that those who have been vaccinated that get infected have a much milder course of the disease and do not end up in the intensive care units or dying from severe infection and the complications of that. Researchers say people should not be worried by the speed with which the new COVID-19 vaccines were developed and distributed. Either, they say the infrastructure for clinical trials and manufacturing was already in place. They didn't cut out any of the steps. They just cut out a lot of the red tape and delays. Early research on HIV also helped the work has actually been going on for many, many years and we're fortunate that the technology was there at the time. The pandemic struck so that these new vaccines could be brought to the public quickly. Haynes remembers his own experience as a child in the age of polio, were all very frightened to go anywhere and to be around other Children because of the fear of getting polio and becoming paralyzed as I remember, it was not too different from the last year and a half with regard to restricting our activity back in the fifties. Then polio vaccines were developed and the rates of polio transmission plummeted and society went back to normal. That's a terrific example of just how effective Vaccines can be. Uh, to get back to normalcy and to stop a pandemic and its tracks. That's what we're trying to do now with the coronavirus next. The decades of research behind the current COVID vaccines, about 25 vaccines to combat the AIDS virus are currently under study. So now we're into a look inside the institute's super secure lab. It's an extremely safe and secure facility for working with the live authentic coronavirus. Yeah, The World Health Organization estimates up to 100,000 AIDS cases today. Duke human vaccine Institute Director Barton Haynes began studying what was called gay related immune deficiency disease for the NIH. In 1983 we were very, very concerned at the mortality rate and the rate of spread of this particular virus. We didn't know it was a virus at that time, we didn't know what it was. The probable cause of AIDS has been found variant of a known human cancer virus. Haynes studied hemophiliacs who were becoming infected with what became known as HIV the infection of the human felax. Let us know that this was a virus that could infect anyone in the population. In 1985 Haynes started working on an HIV vaccine. Among his colleagues was the federal government's leading AIDS researcher at the time, Anthony Fauci. If we're lucky and we do develop the vaccine, it'll be well into the mid nineties that we have one available. Haynes says different research grants were going to different researchers all over the world. We were stuck, we had About 50 different vaccine candidates. Many of them were similar because they were not being compared with each other and none that frankly, I or anyone else was really excited about Haines collaborated with the federal government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to do business in a different way and the new business a different way was to fund groups of individuals who would compare the different vaccine candidates and agreed to work together. In 2000 and five, the federal government granted the institute $300 million to develop an AIDS vaccine. So what changed in 2000 and five was that the field began the process of coming together and collaborating in larger and larger groups. HIV is a more challenging virus than SARS Kobe too. It's one of the most rapidly evolving life forms in the virus world. When it inserts into our own genetic material, It cloaks itself, it hides from the immune system and our body doesn't naturally make the antibodies needed to fight it. So what we're having to do with HIV and what we spent the last 17 years learning is how do you engineer the human immune system so that will safely make those protective antibodies that when they're made they don't harm us. So we know what we need to do. We know what the vaccine is going to have to do. And now it's just a matter of actually putting the plans in place to get that actual vaccine made work on HIV helped lead to the development of what's called M. RNA technology for the development of vaccines. It's the same technology used to make the current covid vaccines typically vaccines are either virus particles that have been inactivated so that they're not infectious or their protein parts of the virus that your body sees as foreign and makes an immune response and establishes memory the MRNA Platform uses the coding sequence that tells your body how to make proteins. We can quickly give that to a person and you use your human body as the actually the manufacturing facility to make the proteins and then your body sees those proteins as foreign and makes the memory immune response which gives you the protection and the beauty of the M. RNA platform is it's one that is a very short timeline going from vaccine candidate development going to manufacturing because of just the nature of the way the M. RNA product is made. The technology can be used to make both vaccines and treatments and it's flexible. You can quickly modify what goes into the vaccine so that you can pivot to vary new variants that come out or take that same concept and apply it to another pathogen that may come down the road. The institute's work on HIV vaccine also meant There was already a clinical trial network in place to test vaccines for COVID-19 And so they were able to pivot very quickly because they already had people in place. They already had all of the staff that was necessary to do it just had to turn their attention to a different problem. The work that's been going on for the past 20 years or so. And HIV vaccine development developed much of the technology that was then taken and frame shifted and used immediately in January of 2020 for the covid vaccines. Haynes says that's one reason those vaccines were developed so quickly. People have been trying to make better vaccines for years for a number of different diseases and all of those techniques were brought to bear on this problem. The institute is currently using antibodies it collected from people infected with SARS Kobe to to develop what's called a pan coronavirus vaccine. When we say pan coronavirus, we actually mean many different types of coronavirus is both in humans and both Annapolis. If we can get a pan coronavirus vaccine, hopefully the goal would be, you would not have to worry about variants. The institute is working on a similar vaccine for the flu. So the goal there is hopefully to get a vaccine for influenza that you do not have to take every year. So the virology teams that we've put together here, the immunology teams that we put together here to study HIV and other pathogens over the years were able to rapidly frame shift into flu. Now at the heart of the institute is the Duke regional biocontainment laboratory. This is a highly secured facility is where you have researchers working with live viruses to develop vaccines. Duke is giving us a rare look inside. It allows us to do laboratory and animal studies so that we can help develop the next generation of vaccines and treatments to deal with these global pandemic threats. So Gilbert, we're going to head into the containment side of the facility. Now this is a hallway that has eight individual biocontainment suites that allow us the ability to have multiple research projects going on at one time with different agents. Most of the rooms right now are dedicated to SARS coronavirus two. And having the regional biocontainment facility is sort of a jewel within our total program for doing that because we do have the ability to bring samples in from outbreak situations, be able to safely and securely work with them here at Duke and then to use the information we learn from those samples to design the vaccines are the therapeutics that will help us to combat that outbreak. What do you tell someone who is reluctant to get the vaccine? Well, it's unfortunate that politics and other opinions are coming into play here. It is a very safe, very effective vaccine. Both Moderna Pfizer J and J. This is something that everyone needs to take to protect themselves their family and the community at large. This lab is also capable of manufacturing vaccines and treatments all within the vaccine institute here at Duke. We can go from basic discovery all the right of the first in human testing, which is quite unique. Very few institutions have their own pilot manufacturing facility. Next what Duke researchers learned from this pandemic that will help them prepare for the next one. Be prepared constantly. And what I learned from my own battle with COVID-19. God is good. So is that dog on vaccine to watch this WRL special on demand anytime, go to WR EO dot com and all of these streaming platforms. You can also join the conversation by going to W R E L on facebook and twitter. Yeah, average new infections dropping and hospitalizations declining as the pandemic appears to be winding down. Researchers at the Duke Human vaccine Institute are once again looking ahead. We're preparing for future pandemics because it's inevitable that they're coming. The institute is looking at vaccines to fight viruses currently in animals that might someday jump to humans and go ahead and make those vaccines and put them on the shelf, test them in humans and safety trials and have them ready to go when a new pandemic strikes so we can respond even faster. The other component of being prepared is developing a series of antibodies that you can use as treatments. The idea is to use antibodies to blunt early infection. So it doesn't lead to severe disease to have those antibodies on the shelf for whole panel of viruses. Uh so that we'll be ready. Yeah, let's see how this one looks like dealing with this pandemic has been a learning experience for the institute's researchers. And so we've been able to kind of come up with a plan for the future. So that when the next pandemic or the next outbreak that comes around, we'll be prepared to be able to respond as fast as possible And researchers here also hope the pandemic has taught people about how scientific research evolves. We learn things and we figure out what's right and what's wrong and then we move and we continue that process forever. It never stops. And so a lot of times I think people go, well, why are you changing your answer? Well, that's because I know more now. I gave an answer before based on the best data available. Now. I have better data so I can give you a better answer and it's important to understand that we know what we know now and we will know more tomorrow. The institute's technology and experienced staff provide a great learning environment for young researchers like Maria Blasi. That is actually one of the things that really attracted me to come here and stay here and attracting researchers like Blasi is critical to the institute's future. I think there is a lot of investment from everyone in this institute on training the next generation of scientists. So being able to provide like young investigator with technologies and resources to be able to foster their career is crucial. I think for any institution and I think we do have all of that here. The vaccine institute. The pandemic was not only a learning experience for the Duke human vaccine institute, it was also a learning experience for me. I covered Covid 19 as a reporter and battled it as a patient here at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center. I hadn't eaten in three days. I've lost £15 and I'm living what we've been reporting for the past 18 months. And it gives me a different perspective and reporting the story going forward. I was diagnosed with bacterial pneumonia. No way Tylenol was gonna take care of that at the house. It took me in and give me antibiotics, gave me medicine for my nauseous feeling. I'm on an isolated mm covid board here at the hospital. I saw the patients up and down the hall in the ICU is overwhelming to see all the people who are here fighting for their lives. I'm the only one that had shots. I'm the only one without oxygen or a ventilator. But that God I had the vaccine to keep me fighting at the level that I'm fighting now in comparison to my colleagues. So I was looking forward to. After nine days in the hospital, I went home to continue my recovery. Wow, my friend dan fresh air. Unbelievable one doctor told me that with my age and diabetes this day may have never come without me being vaccinated. I shared my story on social media and on the news in hopes of inspiring others to get the vaccine. Gilbert is back on the job today. The first day Since recovering from COVID. The experience gave me a much broader understanding of COVID-19 and its impacts. I now know firsthand what researchers have been telling us all along that vaccines are a best shot at the feeding pandemics. Love you. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Mm.