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Disease experts talk about possible COVID-19 vaccine

Experts say it could take over a year to find a vaccine.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Research is being done around the world to try to find a vaccine for COVID-19, but disease experts in our area say it could take more than a year for this to happen.

According to disease expert Dr. Mark Stillwell from the Good Samaritan Clinic in Fort Smith, it might take 12 months to find a vaccine for the virus.

"There's about 70 vaccines that are being tried around the world right now. You first have to come up with a vaccine, then you have to do safety studies, then see if they've made protective antibodies and see if they really work. It could take some time," Dr. Stillwell said.

Thinking short term, experts say the more people who get tested, the more research can be done to find short term therapy, and eventually a vaccine.

"A treatment we're looking at in the short term is getting plasma from patients who have survived the illness who have high antibody levels. I suspect those will be the most successful studies," Dr. Stillwell said.

Microbiologist and immunology professor, Dr. Daniel Atchley, says this strain of coronavirus is more dangerous than others.

"Most coronaviruses are cold viruses, they just cause the common cold," Dr. Atchley said. "What is unusual is that it is going from person to person. It will not only target to the top of the respiratory tract, but it will go into the lower respiratory tract. It has the ability to infect anywhere it lands, even the gastrointestinal tract."

Looking to the future, doctors say there could be another spike in cases come this fall because diseases like COVID-19 thrive in colder weather.

"With other coronaviruses, they do tend to dampen and die down in the summer, this fall and winter there could be a resurgence," Dr. Stillwell said. "The real fix will be the vaccine, but it doesn't look like that will come out until spring."

There are three big symptoms for COVID-19: a spike in fever, shortness of breath and a dry cough, but experts say there are others to watch for.

"There are some people, up to 30 to 70 percent of people who have been infected report only the loss of smell or taste, so that needs to be added," Dr. Atchley said.

Dr. Stillwell and Dr. Atchley are both professors with Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine (ARCOM).

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