Peter Hotez, professor and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) in Houston, Texas, said his group at the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development at BCM is working to develop a vaccine in collaboration with other US institutions such as the University of Texas Medical Branch, and the New York Blood Center, and with the Virology Center at Fudan University in Shanghai, China.
"This is a great collaboration," Hotez told the Xinhua news agency. "But vaccine development is not a fast process, and it's not clear whether we would have a vaccine ready to use before this current epidemic ends."
Chinese health authorities announced Wednesday that 440 confirmed cases of pneumonia caused by the novel coronavirus had been reported in 13 provincial-level regions in the country by the end of Tuesday.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on Tuesday that the first coronavirus case has been reported in the US.
Infections of the virus have also been reported in the Republic of Korea, Thailand and Japan.
Hotez said he believes there will be additional cases in the US following the first confirmed case.
"The only good news is that it appears so far that this coronavirus is not as transmissible from person to person as was SARS," he said. "But we're still early in this epidemic and we have a lot to learn."
"For the long term, we should begin vaccine development and have it ready. For now, we need to find ways to protect our healthcare workers who are on the front lines," he said.
Hotez praised China's efforts in dealing with the epidemic, saying Chinese scientists have done an amazing job so far figuring out the transmission and working out quickly the isolation and sequencing of the virus.
"This is a testament to the power and strength of virology in China," he added.
However, Hotez expressed his concern about person to person spread especially since the epidemic is expanding at the start of the Chinese New Year when the whole country is on the move.
"We need to be concerned about travel in the coming days and weeks spreading this virus," he said.
The World Health Organization (WHO) emergency committee convened on Wednesday on whether the latest novel coronavirus outbreak in China constitutes a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
( With inputs from IANS )