What if you could be vaccinated only once and remain protected against flu or COVID-19 for a lifetime? As well as the personal convenience, public health costs and waste would be drastically reduced. Work is already underway on achieving these ambitious goals.
The National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) work on a universal flu vaccine is already well advanced, with human trials beginning now. The new formulation, called BPL-1357, contains a variety of killed avian influenza viruses designed to cover any new strains that are likely to emerge in coming years. It is also likely to be available as a nasal spray.
Separately, Pfizer-BioNTech announced that clinical trials of their next-generation shots will begin later this year. As COVID-19 is a relatively new disease, research in this area is more complex. COVID-19 vaccines wane in efficacy as the SARS-CoV-2 virus mutates over time. To guard against this, a universal vaccine may have components that enhance T-cell production to protect against severe disease, or it could use an approach that protects against as many coronaviruses as possible.
One potential advantage of a universal coronavirus vaccine is protection against any novel coronaviruses from animal disease reservoirs that spill over into the human population, as we have seen with SARS, MERS, and SARS-CoV-2. When asked about what technologies researchers might use to create such pan-coronavirus shots, Dr. Dana Hawkinson, Infectious Diseases and Medical Director of the Infection Control and Prevention (IPAC) program, University of Kansas Health System, said that it is hard to say. He noted, however, that genome sequencing, RNA and DNA technology, and possibly other molecular techniques may be used.
We are still some way from seeing either universal vaccine graduate from the laboratory to the clinic, but news of these human clinical trials suggests that we are now closer to “once in a lifetime” shots than ever before!
*Adapted from Medical News Today