COLLEGE STATION, TX — White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx visited College Station Tuesday to visit Texas A&M and Fujifilm facility where the potential COVID-19 vaccine, Novavax, is being manufactured.
After visiting Baylor University on Monday, Dr. Birx made her way down Highway 6 to Texas A&M. University officials say Dr. Birx was impressed with her visit to the Brazos Valley.
“After we walked through the vaccine development manufacturing facility out there, she commented, "I had no idea this existed out here." It was really good for her to see that,” said Greg Hartman, Chief Operating Officer of TAMU Health Science Center.
Dr. Birx toured Fujifilm’s laboratory with A&M officials to see first-hand the biotechnologies happening in College Station.
“I think you see that forward-leaning behavior of Texas A&M, taking on vaccine development back with Barden vaccine in 2012 and really provide this platform that could be expanded,” said Dr. Birx.
While six vaccines are already undergoing trials and manufacturing, Dr. Birx says finding the safest and most effective vaccine is the challenge.
“I think the question is how many of these vaccines will work and that determines how many doses we have. So, that is really the question right now,” she explained. “We have, on paper, enough vaccine to immunize everyone. The question is will all six candidates work.”
Once a safe and effective vaccine is identified, Dr. Birx says college students will more than likely be at the back of the line to receive the vaccine.
“Because of their less risk for serious illness in general, unless they are in that vulnerable category, maybe on that tail end of immunization and so [university] presidents, and we talked about this, really need to plan for their spring semester to look similar to their fall semester and to understand that vaccine may not get to college students until late in the spring,” she said.
Texas A&M students have seen very low infection rates compared to other universities throughout the county, something Dr. Birx attributed to the Texas A&M’s values.
“This linking of their behaviors to their core fundamental values of this institution related to their respect for others and selflessness, and you could see that in the way the students described the peer pressure to really ensure consistent behavior and protection of others,” says Birx.
Until a safe and effective vaccine is identified, continuing to safe practices will keep the Brazos Valley ahead of the novel coronavirus.