Vaccines and the Immunology of COVID-19

Vaccines and the Immunology of COVID-19

The world is basically at a stand-still awaiting a COVID-19 vaccine to allow life to go back to normal and restart global economies. The unprecedented accelerated vaccine development timeline, conflicting headlines about when a vaccine will be available, and political interference in the process certainly makes many wary of receiving a new vaccine. There has been no other time in history when understanding vaccines and immunology was more important than the present so that citizens can make decisions about their health. This session will include a general discussion of COVID-19 vaccines, the types of vaccines, and the clinical trial process. In addition, the immune mechanisms (antibodies, B-cells, T-cells) that make vaccines work and the cytokine storm concept that leads to severe COVID-19 disease will be presented.


The views presented are the views of the hosts and guests, not the views or policies of the University of Notre Dame. Information provided is not intended to serve as, nor should be interpreted as, specific medical advice or a substitute for the advice of an individual’s personal health practitioner.

Introduction to SARS-CoV-2 Immunity

Presented by Mary Ann McDowell

This video discusses the timing of immunity during SARS-CoV-2 infections and explains the concepts of innate and adaptive immunity. The different cells and proteins involved in immune responses are introduced.

Introduction to COVID-19 Vaccines

Presented by Mary Ann McDowell

This video introduces the different types of COVID-19 vaccines currently in Phase 3 clinical trials and the basic concepts of how each type of vaccine works.

Two COVID-19 Treatments

Presented by Mary Ann McDowell

This video explains how two of the COVID-19 treatments that President Trump received work to block SARS-CoV-2 infection.

View the Event

Presented by Heidi Beidinger-Burnett and Mary Ann McDowell

Register to receive information about how to join future live event. The faculty hosts compiled answers to any outstanding questions submitted during the live session. You can read the Questions & Answers here.

Guest speakers are Brian Baker, Rev. John A. Zahm Professor and Department Chair, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and Jeffery Schorey, George B. Craig Jr. Professor, Department of Biological Sciences.

Brian Baker

Brian Baker, Rev. John A. Zahm Professor and Department Chair, Professor of Chemistry & Biochemistry and Associate Dean for Research & Graduate Studies in the College of Science at the University of Notre Dame, has a long-standing interest in molecular recognition in the immune system.  His work focuses on types of immune cells called ‘T cells’ that recognize antigens on abnormal cells, such as virally-infected cells. However, T cells can also recognize antigens on cancer cells. Enhancing T cell recognition of tumor antigens can therefore lead to stronger anti-cancer immune responses. Baker uses a combination of biophysics and structural biology to understand the specific molecular details that give rise to T cell recognition.  This information, in turn, can enable Baker and colleagues to engineer T cells that are more effective at targeting tumors. 

Jeffery Schorey

Jeffery Schorey is the George B. Craig Jr. Professor in the Department of Biology at Notre Dame. His research interests include mycobacterial pathogenesis, infectious diseases, and drug development. Specifically, his work focuses on the interaction between mycobacteria and the macrophage–the major cell in the body infected by mycobacteria. His lab has ongoing studies to evaluate and develop a new class of antibiotics that show potent activity against M. tuberculosis as well as treatment of nontuberculous mycobacterial infections. Before arriving at Notre Dame, Schorey received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas Health Science Center and taught at the Washington University School of Medicine. 

Additional Resources

Presented by Mary Ann McDowell

  • Short video showing how Gilead’s drug Velkury, also known as remdesivir, works.
  • Charting a COVID-19 Immune Response New York Times article by Katherine J. Wu and Jonathan Corum that gives an overview of the timing of immune responses in mild and severe COVID-19 cases.
  • Charting a Coronavirus Infection  New York Times article by Katherine J. Wu and Jonathan Corum providing an overview of the timing of a coronavirus infection, where during the infection certain diagnostic tests work, and how masks and social distancing curb infectiousness.
  • New York Times Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker  Website that explains the types of coronavirus vaccines and how they work, with information about what stage each vaccine is in the development process.
  • New York Times Coronavirus Drug and Treatment Tracker Website that explains the types of coronavirus treatments and how they work.  Each drug is classified from “widely used” to “promising” to “pseudoscience to fraud.”

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