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Transcript: Into the Team Racing Toward a Vaccine

The full episode transcript for Into the Team Racing Toward a Vaccine.
Image: Virus Lab Work
Dr. Nita Patel, Director of Antibody discovery and Vaccine development, lifts a vial with a potential coronavirus, COVID-19, vaccine at Novavax labs in Rockville, Maryland on March 20, 2020.Andrew Caballero-Reynolds / AFP - Getty Images file


Into America

Into the Team Racing Toward a Vaccine

Trymaine Lee: We've been hearing for weeks that a vaccine for coronavirus is what's needed before life returns to some type of normalcy. But under normal circumstances vaccine development is a long, complex process. According to research from the National Institutes Health the average vaccine has a development timeline of more than ten years.

Dr. Anthony Fauci works for NIH as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He said that it could take up to 18 months to come up with a vaccine for coronavirus. More than 65,000 people have already died from COVID-19. And that number is rising. We don't have any time to waste. I'm Trymaine Lee, and this is Into America.

Today I had the chance to talk to the man who's leading the race to end the pandemic, Dr. John Mascola. Dr. Mascola is the director of the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institutes of Health. He works under Dr. Fauci, and his team is hard at work trying to stop the virus that has stopped so many of us in our tracks. Dr. Mascola, thanks so much for taking time to speak with me today, I really appreciate it.

Dr. John Mascola: Happy to do it, Trymaine.

Lee: I don't think a lot of us actually know how vaccines work. So could we start there? Give a kinda simple explanation of how vaccines work.

Mascola: Sure. A vaccine works by teaching the immune system to make antibodies and other types of immunity against the virus. So essentially it is teaching the body to assume that it had been infected by the coronavirus, so that you would be immune to it if you get exposed a second time.

Lee: That sounds very complicated already. (LAUGH) How simple is it to actually create a vaccine?

Mascola: It's not simple at all. It takes a knowledge of the virus. It takes a lot of technology. And it takes a lot of time. If we don't know what the virus is, how it functions, how it infects the body, how the body makes an immune response to it, then we don't have a very good chance of making an effective vaccine.

Lee: So when it comes to this coronavirus, what do we still not know about it?

Mascola: Well, there's a ton that we don't know about it. You know, it's a new virus. What we do know about it is that there are cousins of coronaviruses that infect people. Those include SARS, the original SARS virus, and the MERS virus. And so those were studied in quite a bit of detail.

Although not all the way to the point of making a vaccine. So scientifically we know what the coronavirus looks like. We know how it infects. We know how the body makes immune responses to it. So this gives us a big jumpstart, when this novel coronavirus emerged in January, towards a vaccine.

Lee: With those knowledge gaps, how does the not knowing complicate moving forward in trying to develop a vaccine for it?

Mascola: So, first of all, we've never made a vaccine for people against coronaviruses. Although we have made vaccines for animals, so that's something. So we don't know exactly how a vaccine needs to be made. We don't exactly what type of immune response we want to teach the body to make.

We don't know exactly what level of immunity we need in a person to protect, or long that immunity will last. So there's a lot of unknowns. All of those are approachable. They're questions that can be answered. It does take some time to get there, though.

Lee: When developing a vaccine, is that typical? Because right now in the midst of this pandemic that sounds kinda scary. Like, we don't know much about it? We've (LAUGH) never developed a vaccine for a coronavirus, period?

Mascola: Sure. You know, it's realistic. It's the reality. I have worked on vaccines all my life. I started my career working on an HIV/AIDS vaccine. And 20 years later, we still don't have a vaccine. But that virus is probably the toughest example we know of in humanity for making a vaccine.

And there are most other examples, where we've been successful. We think that the coronaviruses are on the easier side of the curve, when we're all said and done. Meaning that it shouldn't be too hard for the body to protect itself. And that gives us some optimism.

Lee: In this day and age, right now, what does a typical day at the Vaccine Research Center look like?

Mascola: It's completely different. It's almost like the world has been turned upside down. There are hundreds, if not thousands of people just within the NIH, let alone the rest of the country, and the rest of the world, working on vaccines. So I think people should be assured that the effort everywhere is all-out.

Let me give you a few pieces. There are people, mostly younger scientists, that are working at the bench, in the lab, doing the biologic testing that we need to do to make a vaccine. And we can't have a high density of those people working, so we're trying to work in shifts, and space them out, and still get work done.

So part of the day is managing, you know, laboratory parts of understanding the virus, making the vaccine itself, testing the vaccine itself. A good part of the day is more coordinating. So as director of Vaccine Research Center, I have to coordinate activities that say, how do we get what we've learned into making a vaccine?

Working with companies that can actually produce the vaccine. Working with clinicians that test the vaccine, so that we can go very quickly from the laboratory into the clinic. Working with, for example, the Food and Drug Administration to make sure that we go through the right safety aspects of the vaccine testing before we go into people.

And then working with the people who are testing the vaccine for the first time in people. So there's all this coordination. And what's a bit strange is that a lot of it can be done, from my perspective, from home with discussions and meetings.

But there are a lot of people who are still on the frontlines doing all those parts. You know, before coronavirus, we like to say we were working at 110%. Because, you know, there's lots of diseases that are hugely important. There's HIV/AIDS.

There's trying to get a universal influenza vaccine. We've worked on Ebola. We've worked on malaria and tuberculosis. So in the world of infectious disease there's a lot of important work to do. And then you just add a whole new virus.

And as soon as it came out we realized this was important. But I don't think anybody appreciated in early January that we would have a global pandemic. And the interruption in the ability to work really does make it challenging. So I think we've adjusted, and everybody adjusted, so that actually the scientific progress continues at a pretty rapid pace.

But it's not the way we usually work. It's not 50 people in the lab all talking. It's five people in the lab for one shift, five people another shift, and then us talking virtually on the computer literally several times a day, to try to get the same amount of work done.

Lee: Six feet apart, right. (LAUGH)

Mascola: Six feet apart, with a mask.

Lee: There we go. So with all these changes, and the pressure to get something done, what is the actual current status of efforts to find a vaccine?

Mascola: So I'm encouraged. And the reason is that not only our effort, in our vaccine center at the National Institutes of Health, but in many centers across the country and across the world, many biotechnology and biopharma companies have really seriously invested in the vaccine effort.

People like to say there are, you know, many, many vaccines in the works. But I think you have to look at that to say, which ones are at the point where they're in the clinic? And there are already a handful of vaccines, different types of vaccines, all trying to do the same thing, which is induce, or teach the body to make immunity, that are in Phase I already.

Which means they're being tested. Several are moving to what we call advanced clinical testing in the next couple of months. Which means that the vaccine will be given to hundreds or thousands of people, and we'll actually have to do controlled studies to test if the vaccine works.

That will start over the summer, that will go for the next few months. And depending exactly on how things go, the goal, the intent is to get an answer: does this vaccine, or does another vaccine work? How do they compare? How well does it work?

Does it work in different age populations? For example, does it work as well in elderly populations as young populations? We have to get all that knowledge before we can come back to the public and, you know, for Dr. Fauci, for example, to be able to say that we have data that tells us this vaccine works, that it's safe, and we can recommend it. That's the goal. But that takes months of work.

Lee: So speaking of phase I clinical trials, there is a vaccine in phase I in Washington state, and this was developed by a biotech company called Moderna with researchers from the National Institutes of Health. If you can, could you explain for us what this stage means, and then what happens next? And you touched on it, but I want to kind of step into that a little more.

Mascola: We do this a lot, Trymaine. We work with different companies, because we can do research and discovery. We can give them the biological insights they need. And different companies have different platform technologies, which can make for very effective vaccines.

So for several years our center has been working with the scientists at the biotechnology company Moderna on a MERS vaccine. And we were studying it, and we were trying to figure out together how to make a good vaccine using their platform technology.

And we know that type of vaccine, mRNA vaccine, works in animals very well. You simply just inject some genetic material into a muscle. The muscle takes up that genetic material. And the body actually produces little bits of the coronavirus protein.

Not the virus itself. There's no live virus. Just parts of the coronavirus protein. And the body reacts to that as if it had been infected and becomes immune. So as soon as we knew there was a novel coronavirus, since we had been working closely with this company, Moderna, we were able to very quickly, and they were able to very quickly make clinical material.

Which means we could start phase I testing. And phase I testing was started in March. So that type of rapid pace, literally 65 days from the time we learned of the sequence of the virus to the time we started the first human testing, is as fast as we've ever done it, or really anyone's ever done it.

Lee: So it sounds like this partnership between government and the private sector, these private companies, gave you a jumpstart. But it also sounds like when you're mixing the government and these companies, these for-profit companies, it sounds like there could be upside, and some downside. What's the nature of these partnerships? And are there actual concerns when you're engaged in this kind of partnership?

Mascola: There are upsides and downsides. And the way I look at it is, you know, we have a system in this country where any drug that a person takes, or any vaccine that a person uses is licensed, first of all, by a very careful process by our Food and Drug Administration.

So you know that if it's a licensed drug or a vaccine, you know it's safe, and you know that a U.S. agency has said that it works the way it's labeled. But companies make and sell vaccines. Not the U.S. government, or not any other entity. So that's our system.

And at the NIH, I can't control price or distribution. And there are, you know, very important discussions. Because at the end of the day it's all about distribution. It's about getting the vaccine out to people. But what I can control is getting the vaccine to the point that we can tell the public it works. And if it weren't for this partnership we wouldn't be anywhere close to where we are now. Because it's all of the power of the publicly-funded NIH.

Lee: So when the NIH partners with a private company and invests a lot of manhours, money, research, and everything to get it to the point where, you know, everyone can say, "This actually works," who ultimately owns it? And it sounds like if the government is pumping so much investment in it, then the private can go and make a bunch of money selling something that actually works?

Mascola: In a case like coronavirus, when there is a large public investment, there are mechanisms when we work with the company, such that the first vaccine produced and the first vaccine trials will be a true partnership. All of the data will belong to both of us.

And there is a commitment by the company to provide the vaccine back to the U.S. government so that we can use it as needed for public health purposes. So in the initial stages the NIH and our partner agencies within the government, in what we call the Department of Health and Human Services, will have a lot of control over what happens.

But in the long run, what you said, Trymaine, is true, and is sort of our system, which is that the company will then be able to eventually commercialized the vaccine. And the reality is that if they do that well, and they do it with a certain sense of public good, they will provide it to hundreds, or thousands, or millions of people at a reasonable price. And it will be widely distributed. And that's where we need to get, yes.

Lee: How long does it typically take, after development and testing, to produce and approve vaccine, like, to deliverability?

Mascola: Generally speaking, even if one knows that a vaccine works in a clinical trial, it could take years. Let's say, five years. Because things are done not in parallel, but they're done serially in pieces. Here, with coronavirus, we don't have years.

So the intent is to do things in parallel. Companies are going to make large batches of the vaccine, what we call, "at risk," even before we know that it works. And they are working with the FDA at very early stages, so that the FDA will have all the information in real time, and there's no delay for them to make a determination of whether that product can be sold.

And then the Centers for Disease Control, likewise, will be involved in parallel, so that they can quickly make recommendations on how the vaccine should be distributed and used. So we're trying to shortcut that five-year process to, you know, less than a year by doing all those things in parallel.

Lee: So you talked a little bit, Dr. Mascola, about a timeframe, and a timeline, and that because of the partnership, you've never seen development this quickly, or these efforts ramped up so quickly. Dr. Fauci has talked about the possibility of a vaccine possibly being available in 18 months. President Trump, I believe, just last night said that one will be developed and ready by the end of 2020. So without asking you to make specific predictions, can you comment on the timeframe of a coronavirus vaccine?

Mascola: Sure. And, you know, you know that scientists and doctors hate to predict, but let me just break it into two pieces. So piece number one, test it in a lot of people so that we know whether it works. And then piece number two, make sure there's a lot of it ready for distribution and use.

So piece number one is happening starting in June. And because of the nature of vaccine testing, we give vaccines to, you know, healthy people. Right? It's not a drug where you're treating someone who is sick. So that takes months, usually years.

But we're trying to shorten years into six months to a year. And so what does that mean? It means we could, if all pieces work well together and fit together, have the answer to part one, "does it work," by the end of this year. In parallel, there are plans to make the vaccine in large scale.

In case it works, it's gonna be ready for distribution. So that allows people to say there's a possibility that by early in 2021 we could have a vaccine that's beginning to be distributed to people. Whether we get there or not will depend on a lot of things. But that's certainly the goal that we're working towards.

Lee: We'll be right back after this quick break. (MUSIC) Now, Dr. Mascola, I don't want to put any pressure on you, but we kinda need you to save the world here. So (LAUGH) in needing you to save the world, and the politicians and the public really desperately needing and wanting a vaccine for this coronavirus, how do researchers actually deal with all the pressure from various sides to make sure you're not mistepping and causing more harm than good, and actually developing vaccine?

Mascola: You know, I would maybe make an analogy to, you know, an emergency room or an intensive care unit where doctors and nurses are dealing with a critically ill patient. And if you look in that environment, what you see is calm professionalism.

People doing their job, taking care of people. So it's not that different. People in vaccine research, (NOISE) and in particular at our center, we've been interested in pandemic preparedness. We have been preparing for these type of events for years.

What's different really is the rapidity of all this. You know, going from a virus that we didn't know infected humans, to realizing that we're in an epidemic and then a global pandemic literally within two months. So I have to say to your question, yes, that puts a lot of pressure on us.

And people have really stepped up. There is everybody that we associate with, everyone in our center, everybody we work with. They want to be part of the effort. I don't think I've ever seen such a coordinated team type approach. Not only with our group, but with people that we work with.

Lee: You know, with all the collaboration, and I think we can't lose sight of, that the global nature of this epidemic (right, it's a pandemic for a reason) and I wonder what the partnerships with other countries around the world look like. Because everyone wants a vaccine, right? So what's the partnership like between the NIH and other countries?

Mascola: We work internationally in our world of vaccines all the time. Because most disease don't respect borders. So that's the nature of our work. We have worked in many tens of countries. In European, South American continent, African continent.

We work closely through the World Health Organization, which is a way to bring the countries together to talk. And we share and collaborate on information all the time. So I'd say that's happened at a record pace with coronaviruses.

Lee: I don't want to liken a vaccine that saves lives to military weapons. But it feels a little bit like an arms race. Does it matter who ultimately figures it out first?

Mascola: I can't say no to that. It does matter to the companies. In the world of vaccines, sometimes I think of it as, there are vaccines or drugs which are critically needed for the public health, but from the commercial perspective, they're not profitable entities.

You could think of something like the recent drugs that have been shown to effectively treat Ebola. Right? That's an urgent public need for the country where Ebola is taking place. But from the biopharma company perspective that is not a profitable drug where you can sell it all over the world.

So that's a different circumstance from coronavirus, where if someone has an effective drug or an effective vaccine, that is actually a major commercial product that can be, in the long run, sold in a lot of places. So it does create a lot of incentive for the companies to go quickly and to compete with each other.

We manage that here by making sure that we maintain the scientific rigor to the process, and that the U.S. government and the NIH control the way clinical trials are done, and so that the public can be assured that people like Dr. Fauci know the data, see the data, and can make the right recommendations based on those data.

Lee: Is there also a degree of pride? Do you want to be the ones to figure this out?

Mascola: You know, there's a sense of pride in researchers that work in the public sector. But it's not so much to pride that says, "I want to be recognized. I want the gratitude of being first." It's the pride that says, "I was part of the discovery team that figured out how to do this."

Whether that was a biologic discovery about how the virus attaches to the cell, or how to make the best RNA vaccine, or to be part of the team that first injects it into people, there's tremendous pride. But general speaking, those of us who have stayed in the public sector, you know, we do it because of this sense of public service. And the sense of gratification you get by knowing that you were part of that whole discovery process.

Lee: You know, when you talk about not just the production of the vaccine in large scale, but then sussing through the data to see which populations, age groups, you know, you should be directing this towards, one of the biggest stories of this crisis, and I think about this often because of the nature of the work that I do, and I think about the disparate impact the virus has had on African Americans and other marginalized communities. Are you concerned that these racial disparities could persist with immunization?

Mascola: There is a large public health concern that if we don't get the vaccine to all of the populations that are susceptible, then we haven't finished the job. And we know where transmission is occurring. We know that it occurs in certain populations that have underutilization of access to medical care.

So although that moves into the realm of the Centers for Disease Control and other government agencies, there is no doubt that that's a concern. And there's no doubt that if we don't do that well, then all the science that I'm involved in towards getting a vaccine and showing if it's effective hasn't come to fruition, because you're not vaccinating the people where they're likely to be susceptible to infection. So that has to be part of the public policy discussion.

Lee: You know, which is tougher: the development side, or actually delivering it the population? Especially if we know how our society is structured, right, and there are some ingrained things that we haven't been able to break through. Which one is more difficult?

Mascola: You know, Trymaine, so if this were HIV/AIDS, I would tell you the first one is more difficult, because over more than 20 years we haven't figured out how to make the vaccine yet. But as soon as you're successful then the second one is more difficult.

Because there are lots of examples of very effective vaccines that are not widely available, and especially internationally. So in this country, for sure. But you can look internationally at populations in certain countries that aren't fully vaccinated and protected. So, you know, it's not one more than the other. If you're successful in the first one, then the other problem becomes paramount.

Lee: Now we know clearly at this point that the coronavirus is not like the flu. Right?

Mascola: We do.

Lee: It's not the flu. It is something completely different. But every year we get our flu shots, and we're reminded that, you know, you might have to take a different one next year, and the year after. Do you think that this might be a similar case once we develop a vaccine for the coronavirus, that it will different year to year?

Mascola: So right now we don't think that will be the case. And it's possible that could change as the science evolves. But we know enough about coronaviruses, the cousins of the current coronavirus, and those data suggest that the virus changes much more slowly than flu.

So right now we think that if we develop an effective vaccine, we will not need to change that vaccine every year. The questions that we'd have to learn about are, how long will our vaccine last? Will it last a year? Five years? Ten years? How long do we have to re-boost people? And we'll have to watch over five or ten years to see if the coronavirus changes. But we don't think it's going to change year to year the way the flu does.

Lee: And that's we've got at this point? We're just not sure? We actually have to just see it play out?

Mascola: When there's a new virus in people, that's the best we can do. So what we do is we watch the genetics of the virus very closely. And there are people who do that formally for a living. And they're doing it as we speak, and they're tracking every single mutation. And so far the news is pretty good, that we don't think it's going to change enough to be a problem.

Lee: Do you also have to prepare for the scenario where there is no vaccine? And then what happens?

Mascola: If there's no vaccine-- and I really don't think that's gonna be the case. I'm very optimistic that we will come to a successful vaccine. But the next, if you don't, then we need very effective drug treatments, so that if one gets sick with the coronavirus and needs to go to the hospital, the drug treatment is so effective that the chance that they need to go, for example, to an intensive care unit is really diminished. And I think we'll get there, also. I think both will happen. We'll have vaccines and we'll have treatments. And, you know, whether they happen in months or it takes a couple years, it's always hard to speculate. But I think we'll get to both.

Lee: Dr Mascola, there has been a lot of talk about herd immunity. But under normal circumstances, herd immunity is tied to a vaccine, right? It's not just people naturally come in contact with the virus. Could you explain some of this for us?

Mascola: Sure. We general talk of herd immunity, or sometimes we call it community immunity, but I think "community immunity" is just harder to say. (LAUGHTER)

Lee: That is a tough one.

Mascola: And that's, yes, generally associated with vaccinating enough of the population. You could take, for example, diseases like measles, which we've had an effective vaccine for years, and you'll rarely hear of a person infected with the measles virus.

Because even if there's a person that gets it and they're walking around, and it's highly contagious, there's no place for the virus to go, because any place it tries to go it finds an immune person. But as soon as you get a population of people that no longer take the measles vaccine you find that you start getting infections.

So we need herd immunity. It's usually induced by a vaccine. What we'd prefer not to happen is, you can get herd immunity if over a few years' time, a large amount of the population gets coronavirus infection. And it's 50, 60, 70% of the people have herd immunity. But we would much, much rather get there with the vaccine than letting that play out over several years of just infections.

Lee: Does it concern you that this crisis, and especially the science around the coronavirus, has been politicized? From the very beginning, from the White House, from Congress, there was a lot of, you know, concerning talk, and a lot of talk that kinda confused people. Are you concerned about how this has been politicized?

Mascola: I get concerned when the public discussion confuses, you know, the public, people who aren't scientists, who don't think about all this all the time. And, you know, from my perspective as a scientist trying to get you all a vaccine, you know, what we do is we depend on our public spokesman, Dr. Fauci, to be out there and educating.

And I think, you know, we can all agree that he does that all the time, and he does it fantastically well. I can control what I can control, and that is getting the public to the point to say, "We've done this piece, and we've got you a vaccine." And, you know, as a citizen and as a public health person, I'm concerned about anything that interferes with the steps that gets us from knowing we have a vaccine to getting it distributed to all the people it needs to get to.

Lee: Do you think politics have interfered in those steps for you?

Mascola: So they have not interfered in any of the work we do. I can tap into resources I need. I can talk to Dr. Fauci any time I need to. And so on the scientific perspective, we're good. There's no interference, and we're full speed ahead.

Lee: So we've talked about developing a vaccine, and partnerships, developing herd immunity. When you turn on the TV and you see crowds full of anti-stay-at-home protesters, and you know how the virus is spread, does that concern you?

Mascola: I think it tells me that people don't always understand this balance between public health and getting back to normal life. Because we all really crave a more normal life environment, and we all understand the impact of not having financial income. So, you know, understanding that, what makes me nervous is my understanding as a public health official that if we go too fast, we could have 'nother waves of infection. We could do more harm. And nobody wants that.

Lee: Yeah. (LAUGH) Nobody wants that at all.

Mascola: Exactly. For example, from the vaccine perspective, there are a group of people who are anti-vaccine advocates. And I believe that oftentimes they don't really understand the safety and effectiveness and the importance of vaccines.

So I'm concerned that as we go forward, if we really need herd immunity, with a vaccine, so that we can all go back to something closer to the pre-coronavirus normal life that we want to get to, that we can't get there if people are concerned about or not willing to take the vaccine.

So I'm hoping that as this progresses that we can scientifically educate as best we can, and get us, at least a large majority of the population, to be comfortable with what the U.S. government has done on their behalf, that people like in my center are public servants. We do this for a living. We do this as a profession. And we wouldn't bring forth anything that we're not totally confident in, in saying to people, "You should take this vaccine because we know that it's safe and we know that it works."

Lee: So you have been doing this for a very long time, and I think we can all applaud your work. And when you think back about the establishment of the Vaccine Research Center under Bill Clinton, and all of the work and initiatives around finding a vaccine for AIDS, how does that work and your work around the HIV/AIDS epidemic inform what you're doing right now?

Mascola: The HIV/AIDS pandemic and the investment in scientific research and the investment in vaccines brought us new technologies, new scientific understanding of viruses. It brought the right people together under one roof in a center like ours, where we have basic scientists working with clinical scientists all with the same mission of vaccines.

What I think is a nice part of the story, if you want to say anything nice about HIV/AIDS, is that the investment that the scientific community has made has translated to enormous scientific progress in a lot of other diseases, and we would not be anywhere close to where we are with the coronavirus had it not been for all that investment that started with HIV/AIDS.

Lee: So on one hand, I can imagine that, you know, someone in your field such as yourself has been preparing for this your entire lives. On the other hand, I imagine it feels totally unexpected and unprecedented. What have you learned? What have you been surprised by, just in engaging and dealing with the coronavirus?

Mascola: Yeah. You know, the way you state that is just so spot on, right? So if I tell you that I'm a viral immunologist, and my job is to think about viruses and pandemic viruses, you would say, well, I shouldn't be surprised. And professionally, were my colleagues and me surprised that there was a new coronavirus? No.

That's why we were so prepared. But if you asked me as a person, as a citizen, did I think I would actually live through a global pandemic of this seriousness? Honestly, no. You know, we all know intellectually it could happen. But you're never prepared for it. So it's this kind of funny dichotomy that you described of, yes, intellectually, totally prepared. Personally? Boy, it's just hard to fathom still that we're in the midst of something so profound.

Lee: We've all been through a lot. What are you gonna do when this all done? Do you have any plans (LAUGH) when we're on the other side of this thing?

Mascola: You know, I look forward to having a more normal research life, where we can go back to some of the studies we have going, which are trying to find out and prove if we can, for example, delivery antibodies that would protect people against HIV. And so I look forward to getting back to tackling some of the other diseases that are still profoundly important, because we've already handled the coronavirus. That would be really nice.

Lee: Dr. Mascola, thank you so very much for your time today. I really do appreciate it.

Mascola: Good to be with you, Trymaine. Thank you.

Lee: That was Dr. John Mascola, head of the Vaccine Research Center. He joined us from his home in Rockville, Maryland, for this Monday episode of Into America. If you've got feedback, questions, or there's a story you think we should cover, please get in touch with us.

You can email us at That's IntoAmerica@nbcuni (that's short for Universal) dot-com. We'd love to hear about what's happening in your communities. You can also find me on Twitter @TrymaineLee, all one word.

Into America is produced by Isabel Angel, Allison Bailey, Aaron Dalton, Max Jacobs, Barbara Raab, Claire Tighe, Aisha Turner, and Preeti Varathan, original music by Hannis Brown. Our executive producer is Ellen Frankman. Steve Lickteig is executive producer of audio. I'm Trymaine Lee. We'll be back on Thursday.