World Leaders in Vaccine Development
The past year has seen an unprecedented race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine in record time.
As a leader in the field, the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health (CVD) has worked with biotech companies Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech and now Novavax to develop and test vaccines that prevent COVID-19 infection – and which can be produced rapidly.
There From the Beginning
- May 2020: UMSOM was the first site in the United States to test the Pfizer vaccine, which is now in wide distribution across the country.
- September 2020: UMSOM launched Phase 3 testing of the Moderna vaccine, also now in wide distribution.
- December 2020: UMSOM became one of the first clinical research sites in the country to conduct Phase 3 testing of a vaccine from the biotech company Novavax. The first two vaccines have demonstrated greater than 94 percent efficacy to date.
"Our researchers are working to ensure that the safety and performance of these vaccines is meticulously assessed," said Kathleen Neuzil, MD, MPH, FIDSA, the Myron M. Levine, MD, DTPH, Professor of Vaccinology at UMSOM and director of the CVD.
Neuzil is one of the world's most influential research scientists and an advocate for vaccine development and policy. She has also worked on vaccines for influenza, rotavirus, typhoid and other diseases. She was named 2020 Marylander of the Year by The Baltimore Sun for her work on the COVID-19 vaccines.
As a co-director of the National Institutes of Health COVID-19 Prevention Network, Neuzil worked on vaccine research and trials with fellow UMSOM faculty members Kirsten Lyke, MD; Karen Kotloff, MD; Monica McArthur, MD, PhD; Matthew B. Laurens, MD, MPH; Wilbur Chen, MD; and Myron Levine, MD, DPTH, among others.
Levine and Chen serve on federal vaccine advisory panels. Chen, professor of medicine, is a member of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Levine is a leader in the field of vaccines. He serves on the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, which is the panel that recommends to the FDA whether to authorize specific vaccines for emergency use. At UMSOM, Levine is also associate dean for global health, vaccinology and infectious diseases and a co-founder of the Center for Vaccine Development. He designed and supervised the single-dose cholera vaccine, Vaxchora, the first FDA-approved cholera vaccine.
"This virus has not been democratic," said Kotloff, professor of pediatrics, associate director for clinical research in CVD and principal investigator of the Vaccine Treatment and Evaluation Unit. "We have seen that it has impacted minorities, the elderly, and people with certain medical conditions the hardest, and so an important goal of this research is to learn about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine in these groups."
Two university presidents participated in the trials: Bruce Jarrell, MD, FACS, president of University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), and Freeman Hrabowski III, PhD, president of University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
"It was very important for us to enroll participants from diverse ethnic and racial groups, especially those most vulnerable to this disease," Kotloff said. "The results show no difference in the participants' reactions or protection based on these demographics."
To address concerns among the public about the vaccine, UMB hosted a virtual event, Faith, Science, and Trust, in January for Baltimore clergy and community leaders, featuring Hrabowski as well as Anthony Fauci, MD, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Fauci noted that Black Americans have historically faced disparity and even deception in medical trials, such as the unethical Tuskegee syphilis study, making it all the more important to be transparent in addressing their questions about the vaccine.
Hrabowski, who is Black, praised Fauci for mentoring and hiring Black scientists, including some who worked on the vaccine development.
"People need to know there are Black [scientists] involved with developing these vaccines around the country," Hrabowski said.
"My wife, Jackie, and I participated back in September [in the vaccine trials at the CVD]," Hrabowski said. "The center was excellent. We have felt and have been saying in interviews we thought we had been getting the real deal. We both felt really fatigued for a day or two after our shots. When we went in last weekend, we found we had gotten the real vaccine."
UMSOM Dean E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, told the faith leaders he would provide faculty physicians to speak to church and community groups to answer their questions. Dozens of these meetings have taken place since January.