What will the next generation of COVID-19 vaccines look like?

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history at a glance

  • Researchers are racing to develop the next generation of COVID-19 vaccines.

  • These include universal COVID-19 vaccines, oral tablets, and nasal sprays.

  • Psychiatric diagnosis rates were measured over two time periods: 21 to 120 days after COVID-19 diagnosis and 120 days to a year after diagnosis.

As the coronavirus continues to evolve into newer, more contagious variants capable of evading immunity from infection or vaccination, public health experts are trying to develop the next generation of vaccines that may outsmart the new virus.

The federal government’s unprecedented effort to develop and distribute a vaccine against COVID-19 (Operation Warp Speed) produced multiple shots capable of preventing serious illness and death from the disease, and has saved an estimated 1.9 million lives worldwide. the US in the first year of vaccinations. were made available.

But worrying variants with enhanced transmissibility continue to emerge, with people who are fully vaccinated experiencing advanced infections and spreading the virus to others. In the US, new daily cases are still hovering around the 100,000 mark and most counties still have “medium” or “high” level of COVID-19, although hospitalizations and deaths have dropped dramatically since the early days of the pandemic.

A sublineage of the omicron variant, BA.5, is dominant in the US and is causing reinfections in people who already had COVID-19. The variant is believed to be the more contagious version of COVID-19, but it is generally milder than previous strains.

New infections give the virus a chance to mutate and therefore the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines may decrease. That’s why during a White House summit last month, federal health officials, public health experts and vaccine manufacturers stressed the need to develop innovative new vaccines to help induce broad and long-lasting protection against coronaviruses.

Here are some of the next-generation vaccines in development:

Universal COVID-19 Vaccine

Vaccines are generally designed to protect against one or more versions of a virus. Current COVID-19 vaccines target the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which is used to penetrate host cells and cause infection. But the spike protein can mutate rapidly, making it a moving target for vaccines.

To combat this, researchers are working on a universal COVID-19 vaccine that would ideally protect against all current and future strains of SARS-CoV-2. Such a vaccine could significantly slow transmission of the virus. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) have committed $200 million and $43 million, respectively, to research and development for various pancoronavirus vaccine programs. Some universal vaccines in development aim not only to protect against multiple types of COVID-19, but also against a variety of coronaviruses.

“The current vaccine is very effective against the original virus, but the virus has advanced and there are several new variants. Laboratory studies show that the effectiveness of the neutralization ability against new variants has decreased substantially,” Wan Yang, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, said in an interview.

“It is crucial to prevent serious diseases and the vaccine has been very important in saving so many people. But if we’re going to get ahead in terms of preventing big pandemic waves in the future, I think we really need a universal vaccine that works against future variants and is capable of blocking infection,” Yang said.

Work in this area is in its early stages. The Walter Reed Army Research Institute is currently conducting a phase 1 clinical trial of a vaccine to target multiple variants of SARS-CoV-2 and potentially other coronaviruses as well. Preclinical research showed that the vaccine produced “highly potent and broad neutralizing” antibody responses against several variants of SARS-CoV-2 and the SARS-CoV-1 virus. Several entities, including CalTech, Duke University, Pfizer and BioNTech and other biotech companies, are in the first tests of a range of universal coronavirus vaccines.

nasal vaccine

A nasal spray vaccine could be another weapon in the arsenal against COVID-19, as early research has shown exciting results in animal studies.

While current mRNA vaccines induce robust immunity in the blood, preventing serious illness, they lack the antibody response in the nose and airways, the body’s first line of defense against respiratory infections. This is particularly true of the omicron sublineage. Recent research published in Science Immunology suggests that combining mRNA vaccines with a nasal booster vaccine could provide much stronger protection where the virus enters the body, thus preventing infection.

The researchers showed that mice given an mRNA vaccine had a good antibody response in the blood, but not very good mucosal immunity. However, when given a nasal booster, the researchers observed a “very robust” mucosal immunity response against all SARS-CoV-2 variants tested.

“We believe that robust antibody responses in the respiratory tract would neutralize the virus immediately after viral entry when the individual contracts the virus, thus preventing the establishment of viral infection and subsequent transmission of infection to others,” Jie said. Sun, a professor of medicine at the University of Virginia and co-author of the study, said.

Akiko Iwasaki, an immunobiologist at Yale University working to commercialize a nasal booster, said during last month’s White House COVID-19 vaccine summit that the only way to stop the emergence of new variants is with vaccines that block the transmission.

Many nasal vaccine candidates are being tested, but most studies are in the early phase and few have been tested in humans. The researchers say it will probably be a couple of years before a viable nasal vaccine is available to the public.

oral vaccine

The biotech company Vaxart is currently testing a COVID-19 adenovirus vaccine that comes in the form of a small tablet and induces antibodies in the mucosal tissues of the nose and lungs. Sean Tucker, Senior Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer of Vaxart, began research on an oral flu vaccine more than 12 years ago to make the flu vaccine more convenient and affordable than traditional shots.

Preliminary phase 1 clinical data published last month showed that Vaxart’s oral COVID-19 vaccine induced long-lasting mucosal antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. Most of the 35 vaccine recipients in the trial experienced a rise in mucosal antibodies that were highly cross-reactive against all coronaviruses tested and persisted for up to a year. The vaccine also appeared to be safe and well tolerated.

Furthermore, the results showed that the participants had higher antibody levels than people whose antibodies were produced by past COVID-19 infections.

“We think our technology would match quite well with an mRNA vaccine. Those work very well from an antibody standpoint in the serum, our vaccine will add to that because they’re going to be able to do a mucosal response. And it could be that we can also increase their serum responses. We just don’t know yet,” Tucker said in an interview.

A phase 2 trial with nearly 900 participants is currently underway.


The success of Operation Warp Speed ​​was the result of huge investments in research and development and a sense of urgency to tame the coronavirus that has killed millions around the world. But as deaths and hospitalizations have dropped and Congress stalls on new rounds of COVID-19 funding, the path to bringing innovative new vaccines to market is uncertain.

“The question is whether Congress will act to fund it,” said Mark Herr, Vaxart’s communications representative. “If substantial effort and money were invested, we could certainly reach the goal within a year, 18 months, and have a vaccine available.”

Posted on August 18, 2022

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