UW Vaccine Expert To Present Live Webinar Thursday

Jan 18, 2021

University of Washington vaccinologist Deborah Fuller will talk about Covid vaccines during a free Thursday public webinar.
Credit Courtesy of the University of Washington

On Thursday [1/21], University of Washington microbiologist and vaccinologist Deborah Fuller will give a virtual presentation about how vaccines are made and how they work. Her talk is sponsored by UW Medicine and open to the public.

Doug Nadvornick recently talked with Dr. Fuller about Covid vaccines, starting with the question of whether she’s been surprised by anything that had led up to our current situation.

[Dr. Deborah Fuller 's talk will start at 6 pm Thursday and is free and open to the public. You'll need to register to attend.]

Deborah Fuller: “The first surprise was how quickly it was able to be developed and that was an exciting one. The second surprise was that we would have been happy with vaccines that were 70%, 80% effective because that’s a really good vaccine. These vaccines emerging at the 95% efficacy was a very pleasant and exciting surprise. That’s about as good as a vaccine can get in terms of efficacy. So those were the positive ones. Some of the things that were more not positive are the rollout. As a vaccinologist, I think the hard part is the discovery of the vaccine. This has been all uphill and then once we hit the top of the hill, the vaccine rollout should just roll down the hill, right? It really didn’t quite happen that way.”

Doug: "Now that there are multiple vaccines on the market and more on the way, is there a way to determine which vaccines are the best for different types of people?"

Deborah Fuller: “I’m not sure that we fully know for sure which vaccines might be better for certain demographics than others. One of the things we do know is that, typically, the elderly, the elderly are the most vulnerable to Covid-19, typically, the elderly don’t respond as well to vaccinations. All of the clinical trials for both the RNA vaccines, as well as these viral vector vaccines, have incorporated a cohort of people that are 65 and older to study how they respond to their vaccines and compare those to the younger people. What’s remarkable, in the data that I’ve looked at from all of these studies, is that actually the 65 plus people do respond a little less, not dramatically less well than younger people. That’s in contrast to our flu vaccine that we get every year. These new technologies look like they’re going to actually work much better in demographics that traditionally did not respond well to vaccinations. All in all, we will know more, as more and more people get it, we’ll be able to study the different demographics and really compare their immune responses and the efficacy of these vaccines to see if there are any differences. Some differences might come out and, if they do, then additional recommendations can come out and say, hey, if you’re of this particular demographic, this particular type of vaccine might be better for you.”

Doug: "How long can we expect the vaccines to protect us from the virus. How often would we need to receive booster shots, as we do each year with the flu?"

Deborah Fuller: “They’re continuing to study the people who are enrolled in the clinical trials for months and they’re getting in now, six months after the immunization, and they’re seeing that these immune responses are fairly durable. That’s promising, for sure, but we don’t know for sure if, after a year, the immune response is going to wane and therefore requiring us to get a booster immunization to sustain our immunity. The other factor is that we do see emerging variants come out for coronavirus and we may need to update our vaccines to stay on pace with any new viral variants that come out. Right now, the current variants that are out there, the one from the UK and the one from South Africa, it looks as if they are going to be vulnerable to our vaccines. So our vaccines should protect against those particular variants. But it’s always possible for a virus to eventually develop mutations that could make our vaccines slightly less effective and, if they do, then what’s really cool about both the RNA vaccines as well as these new viral vector vaccines is that they’re very easy to update and replace.”

Doug: "Scientists will continue to study how the vaccines affect people with individual health situations, people with reduced immunity, people with auto immune diseases, for example, to see how they will respond."

Deborah Fuller: “Right now all of the vaccines are very safe and very effective. They did enroll in these phase three trials, a very diverse group of people, but we really won’t know that for sure until we get into millions of people and are able to look at the outcomes at a population level.”

Doug: "When will we know it’s safe enough to take off our masks and not have the fear that we’ll contract the virus from or transit it to someone else?"

Deborah Fuller: “That will be once we can see substantial reductions in transmission in the population. It’s being studied in real time. You can see this every day on multiple websites. Johns Hopkins has a wonderful website, in terms of looking at the daily transmission rate. We’re going to hit a tipping point at some point. We will start to get enough people vaccinated. You’re going to start to see that particular rate of transmission go down. When it gets very low, that’s when we’re going to be able to have a ‘take your mask off party’, so to speak. I want to assure everyone we’re going to get there.”