MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It’s a sprint to the finish line for Mayo Clinic researchers developing a COVID-19 vaccine.

WCCO heard how Minnesota patients are helping to eventually protect us from the virus.

For more than 20 years, Dr. Richard Kennedy has studied why people respond differently to viral vaccines as Co-Director of Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group.

“So, it’s a little bit of juggling then more balls get thrown into the air with the pandemic then you just juggle faster,” Dr. Kennedy said.

His team would have taken years to do what they’ve done in months in their quest for a COVID-19 vaccine.

“This is blindly fast. You don’t have time to pause or catch your breath,” he said.

There are several teams at Mayo in phase one of their studies, working seven days a week in teams of up to 20, exploring what Dr. Kennedy calls a variety of vaccine platforms.

“You never know how vaccines are going to work or how well they are going to work,” Dr. Kennedy said.

“Others have likened it to having more arrows in the quiver so the more vaccines we have in the pipeline the better off we are,” he added.

50 to 100 Minnesotans who once tested positive for COVID-19 have volunteered to help researchers develop a vaccine.

University of Minnesota senior, Claire Stobb is one of them.

“I had the worse symptoms of anyone in our house,” Stobb recalled.

She was one of the state’s first cases back in March.  On five different occasions, Stobb’s donated plasma to the Red Cross with the hope the research protects older more vulnerable people.

“It definitely felt like something that was worthwhile and the responsible thing to do,” she added.

“There’s a lot of outreach, there’s a lot of interaction with patients. So there’s a lot of crunching the numbers on the computer once you talk to patients,” Dr. Kennedy explained.

From asymptotic patients to those who have spent time in intensive care, Dr. Kennedy admits another challenge of COVID-19 has been how it effects people so differently.

“We’re trying to figure out why somebody is not going to make any antibody and somebody else makes a very strong virus response,” Dr. Kennedy said.

“If we can take that information we can use it to develop better vaccines that are stronger and more long lasting,” he added.

Dr. Kennedy calls it a sobering and exciting time to be a part this field. He believes Mayo is six months to a year away from being able to offer some real relief.

“We will have a vaccine it may not be as quickly as people like but we will get there,” Dr. Kennedy said.

Dozens of other companies are also involved in vaccine development around the world.  Dr. Kennedy says that’s better for everyone since he believes everyone will need the vaccine.  Calling a vaccine that protects the vast majority of people our best chance of getting back to a new normal.

Liz Collin

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