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UAB preparing for possibility of coronavirus outbreak, vaccine at least a year away

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A vaccine for coronavirus is making its way through the testing process, but will likely take at least a year before it’s ready for the market, said a University of Alabama at Birmingham physician on Friday. 

Dr. Molly Fleece, an infectious disease expert at the UAB, told reporters at a press conference Friday that there are still no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Alabama, and that as of Thursday the state Department of Public Health’s laboratory in Montgomery can now test for the disease. The university hospital may also soon be able to test for coronavirus. 

“We hope within the next week to two weeks we here at UAB will be able to do our own COVID-19 testing,” Fleece said. 

Fleece said the university hospital has been preparing for a possible coronavirus outbreak for months, and has plans in place that are continuously being worked on, including simulated outbreaks and screenings. 

Fleece answered a question about two students at Jacksonville State University who came into contact with a coronavirus patient in Georgia before attending classes, and who are now on self-quarantine at their homes in northwest Georgia, according to The Anniston Star. The university’s president made that announcement in a letter to students, faculty and staff on Friday. 

“The local health officials and school officials are monitoring the case closely, but as far as I’m aware the two students are asymptomatic,” Fleece said. 

If a person shows symptoms of the Coronavirus, which are a fever, shortness of breath and a cough, they should stay home and call their primary care provider, Fleece said. 

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Fleece encouraged the public to thoroughly wash their hands “very well and very often,” to clean and disinfect surfaces often “and if you’re sick, try and stay home and call your health care provider for further questions.” 

Fleece said there are plenty of myths making rounds on social media about COVID-19, and stressed that the best way to prevent exposure is to wash ones hands and avoid being around someone who is sick. 

Fleece said UAB is working on a vaccine for COVID-19 which has gone through animal testing and “looks to be fairly promising. Hopefully we’ll begin human trials in the next month to two months.” 

“Unfortunately, vaccines take a while to produce, so I think the earliest that we’re likely to see a vaccine come on the market, where we can receive it more broadly, is at least a year away,” Fleece said. 

UAB in a statement Friday shared key information: 

  • COVID-19 symptoms include fever, runny nose, dry cough, shortness of breath, fatigue and body aches; these are the same symptoms of the common flu virus. If you have these symptoms, it is possibly the common cold or a common strain of the flu. If you are experiencing symptoms, call your primary care physician or an urgent care facility first.
  • Protect against spreading viral illnesses by:
    • Washing hands frequently and avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
    • Avoiding sick people, avoid people if you are sick, and do not travel if you are sick.
    • Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces with isopropyl alcohol and covering your cough or sneezing with a sleeve or tissue.
    • Protecting against the flu by getting the flu vaccine. The flu vaccine does not protect against COVID-19, but the flu poses a more active health threat in Alabama at this time.

“To date, Alabama has had no cases of COVID-19, and UAB has had no cases of COVID-19 or been notified of any member of the campus community with the virus. The risk for Alabamians remains relatively low at this time, and UAB — along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Alabama and Jefferson County Departments of Public Health — are closely monitoring the ongoing situation.

“Should we have a confirmed patient at UAB or in the state, communication verifying a positive test would most likely be a joint effort between the local health department and the Alabama Department of Public Health.

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“In addition to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 website, you can also visit for the updated tips and information. We have resources including helpful handouts and videos that can further educate the public on prevention efforts and precautions.”


Eddie Burkhalter is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can email him at [email protected] or reach him via Twitter.

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