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'We're getting very good at this' | Military researchers talk COVID-19 vaccine work at Pentagon

Officials believe the earliest they'll have a vaccine for the public is 12 to 18 months.

WASHINGTON — The work the military is doing to create a coronavirus vaccine is happening right in the DMV. Thursday, officials at the Pentagon revealed that research is taking place at Maryland's Fort Detrick, Walter Reed and a lab in Silver Spring.

Four days ago, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff stood in the Pentagon briefing room and told reporters military researchers were working on a coronavirus vaccine. On Thursday, researchers gave us details.

"Regrettably, because one seems to come up every year or so, we're getting very good at this," Dr. Nelson Michael, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, said.

Scientists said they are looking into how mice respond to potential vaccines. They're not examining if those potential vaccines protect against COVID-19 yet, but how mice respond to them. Officials believe the earliest they'll have a vaccine for the public is 12 to 18 months.

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"Think of my fist as the virus, it's a sphere and it's got little spokes coming off of it," Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, director of Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, demonstrated. "That makes it the corona. When you look at it on cross-section, it's got that crown look to it, so almost all the vaccine candidates out there are focused on that little spoke." 

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Once they figure out how to prevent that spoke from attaching to the body, that's what will make for a good vaccine.  

These scientists were the first to test the Ebola vaccine, and malaria drugs also came through here.

Last summer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shut down the lab at Fort Detrick because structural defects led to some violations. Brig. Gen. Michael J. Talley, commander of USAMRDC and Fort Detrick, explained there was never any danger to the community, but changes had to be made and the lab was restored last month.

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Now, they're able to work the coronavirus at all levels.

"We're supporting a whole of government approach to protect, prevent and treat COVID-19," he added.

This isn't just about a vaccine, but also treatment. Talley said they are working on an agreement with an industry partner on that aspect.

The U.S. Army announced Tuesday it is partnering with a private company on a treatment for COVID-19. The U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity said it is working with Gilead Sciences of California.

Gilead will provide its investigational drug, called remdesivir, for treatment of Department of Defense  personnel exposed to COVID-19. The agreement allows for investigational use "in the absence of any approved treatment options."

The Army said use of the drug comes at no cost to the government. In February, the Federal Drug Administration allowed the investigational drug application to proceed to clinical trials to evaluate its effectiveness in treating COVID-19.

This isn't the first time DOD and Gilead Sciences have partnered.

"Today's announcement builds on a longstanding partnership between the DOD and Gilead Sciences to protect our Service Members," a news release said. "Through a collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, and the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Radiological, Biological, and Nuclear Defense, Gilead continues to test a collection of their antiviral molecules and remdesivir against other viral pathogens representing potential global health threats."

"Together with our Government and Industry partners, we are progressing at almost revolutionary rates to deliver effective treatment and prevention products that will protect the citizens of the world and preserve the readiness and lethality of our Service Members," said Army Brig. Gen. Michael J. Talley, commanding general of USAMRDC and Fort Detrick.

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