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The COVID-19 Vaccine: Inside America’s Race For An Answer

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A laboratory technician is seen the Inselspital Universitaetsspital Bern university hospital during researches for a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Bern, Switzerland April 22, 2020.
REUTERS | Arnd Wiegmann
A laboratory technician is seen the Inselspital Universitaetsspital Bern university hospital during researches for a vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Bern, Switzerland April 22, 2020.

On this week’s Petrie Dish, we dive into the COVID-19 vaccine. First we answer: what is a vaccine? We've all gotten them, but have you ever wondered how they protect you from disease? Vaccine expert Joanne Turner gets into the nitty gritty of how vaccines work and walks us through the history of the first-ever vaccine, which treated another vicious virus that ravaged the world. 

We also explore the hunt for a vaccine against the COVID virus. It began with a search for an animal that would get sick with COVID like a human, and might also respond to treatments as humans do. Researchers at Texas Biomedical Research Institute have found one: a mouse with human DNA. We'll talk to one of the researchers working with these mice to see what scientists have learned. 

We also visit the Texas’s border cities of Laredo and McAllen, where they know COVID-19 all too well. They’ve been struggling with rising cases and deaths all summer. But there’s another aspect of COVID-19 that is centered there: vaccine trial testing. 

Both cities are test sites for Moderna, the company leading the race for the vaccine in the U.S. Some residents and leaders like Congressman Henry Cuellar have welcomed and even requested testing in the area.  But other residents, like 23-year-old Alberto Castilleja, still have questions and concerns. TPR visits the trial site in McAllen and looks at another grim outbreak in Laredo’s history.

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Reported and Produced by: Bonnie Petrie, Dominic Anthony Walsh, Maria Mendez, and Lucy Huang.

Sound Design and Music: Jacob Rosati

Executive Producer: Fernanda Camarena 

Host: Bonnie Petrie 

TPR News Director: Dan Katz

This podcast is a production of Texas Public Radio, which was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.

Bonnie Petrie can be reached at Bonnie@TPR.org and on Twitter at @kbonniepetrie. TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.