University of Georgia working on COVID-19 virus, hopes to be ready by the end of the year

We are closer to finding a vaccine for COVID-19 than we may think.

Researchers at the University of Georgia are developing one that they hope to have ready by the end of the year.

“Safety is number one. I have kids, and they all get vaccinated. The first thing I ask is ‘Is our vaccine safe?’” said Dr. Biao He, a professor at the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Just one year ago, Dr. He never imagined he would contribute to something so important and urgent -- developing a vaccine for COVID-19.

The virus has infected hundreds of thousands of people and has taken tens of thousands of lives in the U.S alone.

But Dr. He and his colleagues at UGA’s College of Veterinary Medicine jumped into action. They are already working on a vaccine they hope will be ready by the end of the year.

“We are scientists. We are interested in solving problems. This is one of those things we just happen to be having a solution and hopefully to deal with COVID-19,” Dr. He said.

Researchers at the college have begun combining coronavirus strains with a harmless virus in dogs called the kennel cough virus.

Dr. He has studied this virus for 20 years. It is the same one he used to develop a vaccine for MERS,the coronavirus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

So how does it work?

“You only take a chunk of the bad virus, so the virus is not dangerous,” Dr. He said. “Then we put this thing into a harmless virus we know we’ve been using for 40 years now -- the kennel cough. So, we combine two and two together so we make a new vaccine that will be for COVID-19.”

Dr. He says there are many benefits to this vaccine candidate. It is inexpensive and quick to produce in large quantities. His goal is for everyone to have access to the vaccine without worrying about the cost.

“I’m confident we can overcome this outbreak. It’s going to take some time and patience,” Dr. He said.

Right now, researchers are testing the vaccine on mice and ferrets. They hope to get approval from the FDA to move toward human clinical trials.