COVID-19 News

WRAIR recruits active-duty lieutenant for COVID-19 vaccine research

Ten months ago, Ethan Green walked across a stage at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to accept a bachelor's degree in biology and a commission from the U.S. Army.

On Tuesday, Green, now a second lieutenant and doctoral candidate at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, climbed out of bed at 2 a.m. for his daily trek to a lab at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) in Silver Spring, Maryland. There, he planned to spend the day harvesting proteins found in the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus so they could be used for developing a vaccine against the disease it causes, COVID-19.

For the only active-duty member of WRAIR's coronavirus vaccine development team, the job fulfills a dream he's had since he was 14: to be an Army microbiologist.

"The nature of what I'm doing, it's an amazing opportunity, and I thank God every day that I'm doing it. It makes me really sad that I have to -- I'd much rather be bored out of my mind in the lab -- but it has filled me with this immense purpose," Green said in an interview March 23 with

In WRAIR's Emerging Infectious Disease Branch, COVID-19 efforts are built largely on the institute's earlier work on vaccines for Ebola, Zika and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus.

WRAIR is developing a protein vaccine, which targets a portion of the virus -- its protein shell -- that includes the nubs seen in photos of the virus and several other types of protein. The branch also is determining whether an adjuvant -- a separate substance given along with the protein vaccine -- will bolster immune response. Testing is currently underway in mice at WRAIR on a vaccine and adjuvants.

Green, who had been working on a universal influenza vaccine before being pulled to assist with the coronavirus vaccine effort, is optimistic that there will be a COVID-19 vaccine.

"We'll be able to get one before the year is out, at least the clinical trials, and that's if everything goes wrong, like fires, earthquakes and Godzilla attacks," he said. "We'll get something out."