The Race Continues to Develop a Vaccine Against Every Coronavirus

On October 21, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is giving the majority of the U.S. population permission to get a Covid vaccine booster – a shot at such a high demand that 10 million people have somehow gotten it ahead of that allowing the effort to feel more secure. Two days after that, the United Kingdom government felt things were not very safe: It announced the emergence of Delta-plus, a new variant that already costs 6 per cent of cases in that country, and more contagious than the highly mobile Delta.

Those back-to-back events took the nauseating pandemic roller coaster: Things are getting better. No, they are not. Yes, they are. No, they are Really not. Endless repetition is exhausting. This led to a broad coalition of scientists asking: What if we could just make the roller coaster … stop?

In a handful of papers and preprints published over the past six months, these research teams propose a “universal coronavirus vaccine” that can protect against the entire viral family. That means that the current version of SARS-CoV-2, any variants that can avoid the protection of existing vaccines, and any future strains of the coronavirus that may arise cause new pandemics.

It was a complicated project, and no group came close to achieving the goal. Universal vaccines against other recurrent, genetically variable diseases – see, in particular, influenza – have not been successful for many years. But researchers think the one for coronaviruses may be more achievable, because this virus is less genetically complicated than the one that causes the flu, and also because the threat of another coronavirus pandemic feels uncomfortable. which is true.

In fact, SARS-CoV-2 is the third coronavirus to become a major cause of human disease in two decades, after SARS in 2003 and MERS in 2012. Historical epidemiology suggests that there have been waves of infections in coronavirus 20th century, ang 19th century, and possible through the millennium. And possibly thousands are still unknown hiding coronaviruses of bats, wild animals, and domestic animals, ready for the chance to jump between species and inflict damage.

“This isn’t the first coronavirus pandemic we’ve experienced, and it’s not the last, because in less than 20 years we’ve found three coronaviruses with pandemic potential,” said Pablo Penaloza-MacMaster. , a viral immunologist and assistant professor at Northwestern University, and senior author of several papers outlining methods of a universal vaccine. “We want to be prepared for the next pandemic, and the way to do that is to be prepared.”

These research groups don’t just feel the urgency of working on it. In March, the nonprofit Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a public-private partnership that funnels government and philanthropic money into worthy projects, announced it would commit. up to $ 200 million to support universal coronavirus vaccine research.

But here’s the challenge: To create a vaccine that protects against multiple types, strains, or variants of a virus, researchers need to find a feature they can. all have the same and that is responded to by our immune system. Then they need to include that part of the vaccine. With the flu, for example, each new strain arrives bringing small changes to a component called hemagglutinin, a hammer-shaped protein on the surface of the virus that binds to receptors on cells. lungs. Because each hemagglutinin is different — researchers actually classify flu viruses based on how different these proteins are — the search for a universal flu vaccine is focused on trying to redirect attention to immune system from variable protein head to handle, less. variable stem.

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