Maryville College associate professor Jennifer Brigati to discuss COVID-19 vaccines

Jennifer Brigati is chair of the Division of Natural Sciences and associate professor of biology at Maryville College.

A Maryville College professor will hold a public virtual presentation that aims to explain the science behind COVID-19 vaccines and help people feel more comfortable about taking them.

“Hope in a Syringe: How Decades of Research Made Rapid Development of COVID Vaccines Possible” will be presented by Jennifer Brigati, chair of the Division of Natural Sciences and associate professor of biology at Maryville College, at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 25. Participation is free.

“There seems to be a lot of misinformation spreading about the COVID vaccines, and I’ve had a lot of friends reach out to ask if the things they’ve heard are true,” Brigati explained in a college new release. “I was addressing a misconception about the vaccine on social media, and a colleague asked if I would be willing to do a presentation for students on campus as well as the local community.

“I know that the science behind these vaccines is hard to understand when you haven’t spent years in biology classes, and the process for their development can seem mysterious if you haven’t been involved in that process, so I am happy to be a resource for people wanting to learn more about the vaccines,” she said.

The event is sponsored by Maryville College’s Scots Science Scholars (S3) as one of the program’s STEM Success Series events.

Participants may submit questions to a moderator through Zoom’s chat feature during the event; however, participants are encouraged to email questions in advance to Lindsay Walton, STEM success manager, at lind

Brigati’s research background is in counter-bioterrorism, specifically the detection of pathogenic bacteria, such as anthrax spores. The anthrax attacks of 2011 occurred while she was in graduate school and provide “a unique opportunity to jump into a very timely research project,” she said in the statement.

“While my specialty is man-made biological threats, there are many similarities between biological terrorism and naturally occurring pandemics,” said Brigati, who joined the Maryville College faculty in 2006.

During the presentation, Brigati plans to explain how the COVID-19 vaccines work, the decades of research that allowed their seemingly rapid development, the clinical trials process, and current safety data for the vaccines. She also will touch on normal vaccine side effects, as well as the specific side effects most commonly seen with COVID vaccines, “so people know what to expect when they go for their shot.”

Brigati said she hopes the presentation will make people feel more comfortable taking a COVID-19 vaccine when one becomes available to them.

“I can understand how from the outside it looks like these vaccines were rushed, but the technologies used to develop these vaccines were actually developed many years ago,” Brigati said. “Clinical trials were speedy in large part because people were anxious to enroll, so the recruitment phase didn’t take long, and the virus has become quite prevalent in the U.S., so it didn’t take long to get the required number of confirmed cases in the control group.”

“It’s easy to be afraid when you don’t know how something works and you don’t trust how it was made,” she said. “I hope I can ease some of those fears.”

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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