News & Politics

Heroes of the Crisis: A Pediatrician Who’s Steering a Promising Covid Vaccine

Novavax's Gregory Glenn talks about the pressure that comes with trying to save the world from coronavirus.

Photograph by Jeff Elkins

This article is part of Washingtonian‘s feature “Heroes of the Crisis.” From medical professionals to social-justice activists to culinary stars, here are some of the people who have helped get us through these most challenging of times. Read about the 15 people making a difference during the pandemic here.

Gregory Glenn
President of research and development, Novavax

The Gaithersburg-based biotech Novavax is behind one of the country’s most promising Covid-19 vaccines. Glenn, who began his career as a pediatrician, is in charge of steering the vaccine through the knotty testing and regulatory process. Early results have been encouraging enough that in July, the federal government gave Novavax $1.6 billion to help advance its work.

You’re one of the people who could literally save the world from Covid-19. That must be . . . a lot of pressure.

It is a lot of pressure. I think our vaccine is very good. On the other hand, you look around and think, boy, things are so bad. So I have two voices in my head: Well, you can do this. But when? People are suffering, so it’s tough. I really am very confident we can fix this, but it’s almost miraculous to do it in a year. It can’t happen much sooner than that.

What are your interactions like with friends and neighbors? I assume people are constantly asking you how it’s going.

My friends and family are wonderful. The conversations tend to go to places other than Covid because that’s all I talk about all day. You know, happy places. And then people I know casually, they’re not sure what to say. There are some awkward conversations. I live in a funny universe right now.

Sorry to be one of those people, but how is it going?

I would say I am super-optimistic. We know what we’re doing, and it’s just a matter of the normal tasks you do in development. We are committed to creating strong evidence the vaccine really works, and that’s a high bar.

What was it like when you got the results back from the successful first trial and really knew you were on to something?

That’s huge. Because, you know, it’s so hard to achieve this. Just before we got the Phase 1 result, I found myself barely able to make a cup of coffee for a couple days. The anticipation is hard to describe. You know, lives count on this, the company counts on this. My family counts on this. Our government counts on this. Other governments are counting on it. It’s a big moment.

This article appears in the October 2020 issue of Washingtonian.

Politics and Culture Editor

A DC native, Rob Brunner moved back to the city in 2017 to join Washingtonian. Previously, he was an editor and writer at Fast Company and other publications. He has also written for the New York Times Magazine, New York, and Rolling Stone, among others. He lives with his family in Chevy Chase DC.