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A Colorado woman is on the front lines for finding a vaccine for COVID-19

Anna Blakney was born and raised in Colorado, and is now a bioengineer at the Imperial College of London, where she's trying to make a vaccine to prevent COVID-19.

DENVER — A woman from Colorado is on the front lines of research, trying to find a vaccine to prevent COVID-19. 

Anna Blakney was born and raised in Colorado. She graduated from Arapahoe High School and studied at the University of Colorado Boulder.

She then pursued her Ph.D. and started working as a research fellow at Imperial College London in the Department of Infectious Diseases. 

In January, the lab focused its attention on finding a vaccine for the novel coronavirus.

Where is her team in the process?

Blakney said they are in the process of doing pre-clinical trials. The goal is to start clinical trials in June and enroll as many as 2.5 million people by phase three, set for October. 

How aggressive is that timeline and scale of testing?  

Blakney said this is not their usual protocol. 

For vaccines started from scratch, Blakney said, "Some vaccines, we've been working on for three and a half years." 

In the case of COVID-19, she said a lot of development work was already done, so they are in a good place to go into the clinical trial phase. 

What's also unusual is how many people they hope to get involved in the clinical trials.

"Every time I talk to my boss, I'm hearing higher and higher numbers for each of the phases," she said. "We wouldn't normally do that because usually, there isn't such a great motivation to vaccinate that many people at a single time."

There is a strategy behind trying to ramp up the number of people involved in the clinical trials. 

"Testing the vaccine, but then also, if we see that it works in the earlier phases, also being able to really affect the population and start to generate this herd immunity before the vaccine is just available for anybody to get," explained Blakney. 

"With SARS and MERS in the past the outbreak [hadn't] really gone on long enough for a vaccine to be needed," Blakney added. "As time passes and we're seeing [COVID-19] it's not really going away -- now people are becoming more and more worried about having blips of outbreaks over time."

9Health Expert Dr. Payal Kohli, however, said vaccines come with a lot of safety checks. 

"The challenging things with a vaccine," said Dr. Kohli, "Is it's given to a large population. Even very small safety signals can impact a large number of patients."

Are there other researchers working on this?

Blakney said scientists around the world are looking into finding a vaccine, and she considers that to be a good thing because no one group can manufacture billions of vaccines -- the scale Blakney said researchers are thinking of. 

Researchers in the U.S., including at Colorado State University, are among the scientists researching and testing vaccines. 

Any confirmed vaccine, however, will not be available until next year. 

What about existing vaccines?

9Health Expert Dr. Payal Kohli said researchers are actually looking at the vaccine for tuberculosis. The diseases are obviously very different, but some research has shown it can help with immunity when it comes to fighting COVID-19. 

Kohli said if this research pans out, it means an existing vaccine that's already been safety tested could help with slow down COVID-19. 

Elle UK published an article Blakney wrote about her work. You can read it here.

WATCH: CSU researchers working on COVID-19 vaccine

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