UVA researchers racing to develop COVID-19 vaccine and test

Posted at 5:04 PM, Mar 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-13 18:51:07-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Researchers across the world are racing to try to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, but vaccine development takes time because you have to test it on people to make sure it is safe and works.

Right down the road in Charlottesville, Dr. Bill Petri in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Virginia is working with a virologist to develop an approach to vaccinate against the virus.

We visited the lab and learned more about his approach, which focuses on what is referred to as the "spike" protein.

"That is the Achilles heel for the virus. If we can make an antibody that binds to the spike protein that binds to the human receptor than we should be able to neutralize this virus," Dr. Petri said.

Health experts said we can expect a COVID-19 vaccine to come to market in 12-18 months.

In the meantime, researchers at UVA are also working to develop a rapid test, so that folks can get tested on the spot if they think they have COVID-19.

It would be similar to what happens when you think you might have the flu, and a doctor tests you immediately.

COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.

Virginia health officials reminds individuals to take the following precautions:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.
  • Avoid non-essential travel.