COVID’s Turbo-Mutation Is Killing This Vax Dream, So What’s Next?
Two months after scientists in South Africa warned the world about Omicron variant of the new coronavirus, the global increase in infections caused by this variant is finally settling down.
Clearly, exhausted healthcare workers in overcrowded hospitals are still fighting to save lives. But many epidemiologists are starting to look aheadOmicron world.
The pandemic experts The Daily Beast spoke to were unanimous. Omicron is not the end. New variations – “family” is the scientific term – are coming. Worse still, a host of entirely new coronaviruses lurk in animal populations and could make the leap for humans at any moment, seeding an entirely new pandemic after or on top of COVID-19. .
A new vaccine that works equally well against all strains of SARS-CoV-2, as well as any future coronaviruses, could damage both. The “pan-coronavirus” vaccine is the holy grail of public health. Dozens of labs around the world, including several in the US, are working overtime to develop one.
Scientists hope a universal vaccine will greatly simplify global efforts to end the current pandemic and prevent the next. Some insist that it is a better approach than trying to tailor vaccines to specific lineages. For example, an Omicron-specific stab.
James Lawler, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, told The Daily Beast: “We’re going to have to come up with long-term vaccine solutions without the need to chase new variants. Best.
Pan-COVID vaccine is available front of pathogens. Pursuing a lineage-specific vaccine after it. Barton Haynes, an immunologist with Duke University’s Human Vaccine Institute, calls the second approach “whack-a-mole”. “Wait until something happens, then do something about it.”
Haynes told The Daily Beast, the solution is “the amount of vaccine we have and good future use of the vaccine being developed in the second generation of COVID vaccines – that is, the pan vaccine. -coronavirus”.
As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded in late 2019, the priority was to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. In one of the most dramatic feats of pharmaceutical development in world history, in about a year the world had access to a number of highly effective vaccines, of which two were commercially available. new messenger RNA technology.
But uneven distribution of vaccines, and fixed anti-vax minorities in countries with easy access to vaccinations, have created opportunities for SARS-CoV-2 to flourish. Vaccines softened the impact of COVID until a new, more lethal Delta line developed in mid-2021. The enhanced footage helped to reduce Delta’s quality — and then, at the end. Last year, Omicron grew.
Omicron, with its dozens of mutations, somewhat reduces the effectiveness of vaccines, prompting some leading pharmaceuticals to develop new versions of the shot that attack Omicron where it is weakest — hoping to restore levels of effectiveness. previous results of the vaccine. Both Pfizer and Moderna expects their Omicron-specific vaccine to be ready in March.
But Omicron, which is highly contagious but usually less severe than Delta, rises rapidly and fades at about the same rate. Cases have been highest in the worst-affected countries over the past few weeks and are now falling rapidly. In the US, the number of new infections peaked at around 800,000 a day last week before falling to 700,000 a day a few days later.
It is increasingly likely that, by the time Omicron’s specific launchers are ready, Omicron will no longer be a major issue. “I don’t think we’re going to get the Omicron vaccine in time to affect this initial wave of Omicrons,” Lawler said. And some new lineage will almost certainly take its place, Lawler added.
Meanwhile, completely different coronaviruses emerged. They all have two things in common – a special mutant protein that helps them attach to our cells and tend to cause respiratory infections in humans.
Scientists have named 46 coronaviruses so far. Most reside in animal populations; bats, pangolins, tropical cat-like animals called civets. Any of these animal viruses could have jumped to humans – and some species have. Humanity has endured outbreaks of SARS-CoV-1, MERS and now SARS-CoV-2. “Why is there no SARS-CoV-3?” Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told The Daily Beast.
Experts stress that ongoing deforestation and the growing wildlife trade could mean increased human exposure to the coronavirus in the years and decades to come. Changchuan Yin, a scientist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, evaluated – in research has yet to be peer-reviewed – dozens of coronaviruses, and several have been identified, including the civet Civet virus SZ3 and the bat coronavirus HKU9-1, appear to pose a high risk to the population if they jump from animals owner to us.
The increasing speed of SARS-CoV-2’s evolution – from basic virus to Delta to Omicron – has reduced the case for store attacks and underscored the rationale for the photos. pan-COVID snapshot. The growing threat from new coronaviruses only makes that case more likely.
A team of scientists at Duke, led by Haynes and his colleague Kevin Saunders, are among the first to embark on research into a universal vaccine, in spring 2020. After months of work , they found a particularly potent antibody in a sample from a person who had recovered from a SARS-CoV-1 infection in 2003.
That antibody, DH1047, targets the spike protein. Haynes, Saunders and their team immunized monkeys and monkey mice with DH1047, then exposed them to a menu of pathogens including SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses.
“It works wonderfully well,” says Haynes. One experiment produced a titer – a measure of antibody levels – of 47,000. This is more than six times the typical titer due to one of the mRNA vaccines for COVID-19.
The National Institutes of Health has awarded funding to the Duke team to begin production of this antibody. Not only could it form the basis of a powerful full-blown COVID vaccine – it could also be a key ingredient in a new vaccine, Post-infection therapy for COVID-19 and other coronavirus infections.
A team led by Kayvon Modjarrad at the Walter Reed Army Research Institute in Maryland is working on its own universal vaccine — and has also shown promising results. Modjarrad’s team isolated a fragment of the coronavirus spike protein called “spike-ferritin nanoparticle” and exposed monkeys to human subjects starting last spring.
The results, so far, are encouraging. “This vaccine is outstanding,” said Modjarrad. The spike in ferritin nanoparticles “could stimulate immunity in a way that translates into significantly broader protection.” The goal, Modjarrad explains, is “safe, effective and long-lasting protection against multiple strains and species of coronavirus.”
If there is a downside, it’s that the pan-COVID vaccine may be slightly less effective than current mRNA vaccines against the earliest strains of SARS-CoV-2. The mRNA vaccines are most effective at 90 percent or higher, but have gradually lost their effectiveness as newer strains evolve to eliminate them.
The promise of a universal vaccine is that, while potentially less effective overall, it won’t lose effectiveness even if the different coronaviruses it fights mutate in an effort to prevent. it.
A universal vaccine could also greatly simplify the logistics of immunizing large populations. You get a vaccine for a bunch of different viruses and families. You might end up needing a booster, that’s for sure – but if the trigger works as advertised, you won’t need to follow up with another warning every time some newline appears.
Much work remains to be done to turn these promising antibodies and nanoparticles into powerful vaccines, test them in large populations of people and get them past government regulators.
Haynes stressed that his team is working towards large-scale human trials “as quickly as possible”. But in the worst case scenario, it could take years to develop, test and deploy a pan-COVID vaccine, alert Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a virologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who is working on his own universal plane.
But we are in the third year of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and there is no end to it. We will live with this virus and possibly other coronaviruses for a while. It’s time to think long and hard about vaccines that can overcome the virus.