Active-duty Army officer in Maryland pulled to develop coronavirus vaccine

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A recent college graduate and doctoral student became the only active-duty service member to join a team of researchers in Maryland to help develop a vaccine for the coronavirus.

Army 2nd Lt. Ethan Green, a doctoral student at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, was tapped for the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) in Silver Spring, Md., dedicated to coronavirus research.

"The nature of what I'm doing, it's an amazing opportunity, and I thank God every day that I'm doing it. It makes me really sad that I have to -- I'd much rather be bored out of my mind in the lab -- but it has filled me with this immense purpose," Green told Military.com on Monday.

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The institute launched its Emerging Infectious Disease Branch about a year and a half ago. Within that period, its researchers completed two Phase 2 clinical trials of Ebola vaccine candidates in the U.S. and Africa, conducted a first-in-human trial of a Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) vaccine, and developed, manufactured and tested a Zika vaccine.

“We created this department to be already primed and ready to go," WRAIR branch director Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad told Military.com in March 4 interview.

Green graduated from Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., just 10 months ago. He is the only active-duty service member on the team of coronavirus researchers at WRAIR, Military.com reported. Green said he wakes up at 2 a.m. every day and heads to the lab to harvest proteins found in the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus to be used in the vaccine for COVID-19.

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At least 321 active cases of COVID-19 were identified within the Department of Defense Tuesday, including 174 military members, 61 dependents, 59 civilians and 27 contractors. Four military members and one civilian have recovered. One contractor died Saturday.

The Department of Veterans Affairs identified at least 296 active cases as of Tuesday, Military.com reported. Four people employed by the department, including two in New York City, have died after contracting the virus.

Last week, President Trump announced the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was making several experimental drugs, including chloroquine, which is a drug designed to fight malaria, available to test whether it helps patients recover from coronavirus.

Chinese officials published the genetic sequence for the novel coronavirus on Jan. 10. That road map allowed researchers around the globe to launch initiatives to develop vaccines, diagnostic tests and treatments for COVID-19.

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Green said he expected his team at WRAIR to at least begin trials for the vaccine by this winter.

"We'll be able to get one before the year is out, at least the clinical trials, and that's if everything goes wrong, like fires, earthquakes and Godzilla attacks. We'll get something out," he said.

Apart from the government effort, several private companies, including Moderna Therapeutics, CureVac, GlaxoSmithKline, Inovio Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson and Sanofi are in varying stages of developing a vaccine for the coronavirus.

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Last week, four volunteers at the Kaiser Permanente Research Institute in Seattle were administered the first round of Moderna Therapeutics' vaccine -- marking the start of the first clinical trial since the outbreak began.

A vaccine is not expected to be made available to the general public for at least 18 months.