At the family dinner table, viruses were "shop talk." Now my dad is working on a coronavirus vaccine—and talks social distancing, what keeps him going, and unprecedented global collaborationby Kate Young / March 24, 2020 / Leave a comment
Our family talked science around the dinner table. With a father and stepmother working in virology and diagnostics, “shop talk” was virus talk. My sister Luce and I would roll our eyes, and drift off into our own discussions. We’re lucky to have been relatively robust and healthy kids; we had the necessary vaccines, whined about being stuck with needles, and then promptly forgot about them. We moved far away from home, and left behind those dinner table conversations.
But, in the past couple of months, I’ve been calling dad more often, begging him to talk shop. After a career spent on viruses I’d heard of but rarely saw in the news, dad is now heading up one of the 30-something teams around the world who are on-track to develop a vaccine for Covid-19, the virus at the heart of the global pandemic that means you are almost certainly reading these words from self-isolation. After our calls, I’d share his knowledge and milestones with select friends, and we’d reassure ourselves with news from his lab.
With the developments in the past week, I felt like the circle of select friends I was reassuring could afford to be widened a bit. And so, with dad’s OK, I WhatsApped him as he made a coffee after dinner, and recorded our conversation.
Dad, you’ve been working with vaccines for 44 years now; in what ways does this feel different?
I’ve had a fairly wide-ranging career in many aspects of virology, but all of it has been at my own pace. What’s different this time is that we have a challenge: a challenge that presents a real and present threat to the global population.
We’ve been working towards this for almost eight years now, trialling versions of this specific vaccine delivery system [the molecular clamp technology] with a number of different virus systems and groups, looking at how effectively we might be able to develop a generic approach to vaccine design.
What’s different now is that we have an endpoint we have to get to in what will turn out to be a record time for a vaccine.
A lot of the…