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US-based Irish doctor 'confident' of creating vaccine

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Dr David Dowling (left) from Bray, Co Wicklow

Dr David Dowling (left) from Bray, Co Wicklow

Dr David Dowling (left) from Bray, Co Wicklow

A Co Wicklow immunologist is working with a team of leading scientists in the US to develop a vaccine to fight Covid-19.

Dr David Dowling is a research associate with the Precision Vaccine Program at Boston Children's Hospital and an instructor at Harvard Medical School.

The 37-year-old graduated from Dublin City University with a degree in biotechnology in 2005 and went on to obtain a PhD there in immunology, vaccinology and parasitology in 2009.

"I finished my PhD at a time when the financial world imploded and that meant I was told there were no jobs for me in Ireland, but I got two job offers in Harvard and Yale," Dr Dowling said.

"I was living through the Celtic Tiger years on a wage of around €14,000 while everyone around me was building houses, it was bizarre."

With all schools and childcare centres in America now closed, Dr Dowling is trying to balance developing a vaccine with social distancing and minding his two children.

About nine months ago, his team at Boston Children's Hospital received a €10m federal government grant to help develop an influenza vaccine for elderly people and children.

However, the Bray native had been keeping a close watch on coronavirus developments in China, and three months ago, the team were given government approval to turn it into a dual project.

There are now dozens of projects worldwide working around the clock to create a coronavirus vaccine, but Dr Dowling is co-leading a project which is targeting the most vulnerable in society - the elderly.

Vulnerable

Older people and those with pre-existing medical conditions are more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with Covid-19, according to the World Health Organisation.

Dr Dowling is designating a coronavirus vaccine that uses special molecules to boost the immune system.

The unique vaccine will build on earlier vaccines from previous coronavirus outbreaks and work to make them more effective.

As for a timeline on when the vaccine may be ready, Dr Dowling says it largely depends on funding.

He thinks developing a vaccine is imperative as he believes coronavirus could become a seasonal virus.

"I do believe that it may have been circulating for a long time and has only come to the forefront now," he added.

"That's why we have to keep working and can't take time off.

"I have great confidence in my colleagues and the US government that we can get a vaccine developed."