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COVID-19 pandemic drives more vaccine research in Knoxville

AMR Knoxville said it's testing new vaccines for tetanus, the flu and RSV.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Billions of dollars poured into vaccine research during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to somewhat of a vaccine boom. Now, a company in Knoxville is helping test new vaccine technologies. 

Dr. Bill Smith is the CEO of AMR Knoxville, a local vaccine research agency. He said his company is testing new vaccines for tetanus, RSV and the flu.

"There's been a huge amount of money poured into vaccine research," said Dr. Bill Smith. "Since the pandemic, they have gone to the forefront." 

Dr. Smith said new flu vaccines, for example, are testing mRNA technology — the same technology used in the Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines. He said they are also testing antibody technologies. 

Angela Goins is participating in the flu antibody vaccine study. Instead of using the vaccine to generate an antibody response, the vaccines they're testing inject antibodies directly into the person's body, which fight viruses as they enter the body. That way, people who can't generate their own antibodies may still be able to get vaccinated and stay safe from illnesses.

"The idea is for people that are immunosuppressed, for people that have underlying diseases where they don't make good antibodies," Dr. Smith said. 

Dr. Smith said he hopes the new vaccine technology will make vaccines more effective against diseases, especially those which don't currently have vaccines. 

"Over the next few years, we're going to see vaccines against diseases we've never had effective vaccines for previously," Dr. Smith said. 

Goins said the vaccine trial is just like visiting the doctor, but nicer. 

"It also makes me feel good, because it may help someone else in the long run," Goins said. "I wouldn't force anybody to do it, but I feel like it's a good thing to help." 

AMR Knoxville is still looking for people to participate in the vaccine trials. They ask people interested to call 865-305-DRUG.

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