Auburn University virologist involved in vaccine trials discusses timeline, expectations

Auburn University’s Virologist, Dr. Constantinos Kyriakis, DVM, PhD, is testing one of at least one hundred vaccine candidates for COVID-19. (Source: WSFA)
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) -- Scientists and medical experts estimate a vaccine will play a key role in ending the pandemic. That’s why the race is on in laboratories across the world, and here in Alabama.

Auburn University’s Virologist, Dr. Constantinos Kyriakis, DVM, PhD, is testing one of at least one hundred vaccine candidates for COVID-19. As an assistant professor in the Department of Pathobiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine, he’s participating in the pre-clinical phase of the research to determine if the vaccine creates an immune response in swine, which can’t contract the virus.

“Then you take those results, if they are encouraging enough and if they show that this vaccine can be both importantly safe and effective, then you’re going to go to human trials,” said Kyriakis.

He hopes a vaccine is available to the public before the summer of 2021, prior to what's expected to be the third wave of the pandemic. Kyriakis says the expediency in creating this vaccine is unprecedented.

“I definitely have concerns regarding the timeline,” he explained. “But I hope and I believe that the regulatory authorities will do the job as they should, and make sure what goes into the vaccines that will become available will be as safe as any other vaccine.”

He says the majority of the population will need to be vaccinated to build a resistance to COVID-19 and achieve herd immunity.

“You need to have a minimum percent of the population that is vaccinated in order to control the pathogen,” Kyriakis said, pointing out that the goal in reaching this threshold is to protect those who cannot be vaccinated like children and others with certain conditions.

It’s undetermined what percentage of the population would need to be vaccinated to reach herd immunity for COVID-19.

“In the case of measles, the percentage of people you will have to vaccinate to achieve herd immunity to protect everybody including the ones that do not respond properly to vaccination exceeds 90 percent,” he said. “If the percentage of people who are vaccinated goes below this threshold then you will have a measles epidemic. This is what happened in some countries in Europe in the last few years when some communities refused to vaccinate.”

As for the vaccine regiment, he said, “You might need to take it every three, four years or it may be more like how you get your tetanus shot every seven years, something in between the two."

Kyriakis noted that the research surrounding antiviral drugs to treat COVID-19 is vitally important and will help save lives until a vaccine is approved and manufactured.

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