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Houston vaccine developments and when one could be available

HOUSTON – Right now, the University of Houston calls it the greatest unmet medical need before all humankind -- a vaccine for COVID-19.

There are some vaccine candidates saying they can begin the final stage of development soon. Does that mean it could be ready soon? That depends on your outlook.

The developments of these vaccines are warp-speed in the science world but seem to be moving at a snail’s pace for the public who is becoming increasingly tired of social distancing.

Peter Hotez, MD, at Baylor College of Medicine said don’t get your hopes up until 2021.

Worldwide, there are about 100 vaccines in development. U.S. drug companies Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson are two that have conducted human tests to determine the safety of their vaccines.

While at the University of Houston, Shaun Zhang, MD, professor of biology and biochemistry, is not as far along with his research but that doesn’t exactly mean he’s out of the race.

“Those vaccines are not necessarily the best candidates,” he said of the ones being studied now.

Zhang previously practiced as a physician in Wuhan, China (ground zero for the virus) and said when he saw the outbreak start there, he knew it was time to get to work at stopping the virus here.

“We are developing like a hybrid,” he explained of his vaccine injection. “That covers more than one platform so hopefully we can have a more unique advantage.”

So far, Zhang says the results look good in mice and he believes his vaccine will be approved at a later stage. There are actually two UH researchers developing potential vaccines and another is working on a drug to block the virus.

Another vaccine frontrunner is by Moderna. The biotech company says they might be able to prove the effectiveness of their injection by Thanksgiving. That would be a huge relief for the public.

However, Hotez is critical of their approach and says vaccines like his with Baylor and UTMB would be faster to produce.

“A lot of technologies that you are hearing about use technology that is not widely used yet for vaccines, so the fact that we are using technology that is the same for the hepatitis vaccine globally, means that they can have both be inexpensive and widely accessible,” Hotez said.

Hotez said so far, the vaccine he worked on lacks funding to progress to human trials.

There are other treatments that could be available sooner than a vaccine. Regeneron and Eli Lilly are favorites to develop antibody treatments. Those treatments could be ready by the end of this year. They could potentially give a dose of immunity to the virus. Although it’s unknown how long the immunity could last.