The onslaught of infection attributed to the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 drives home the likelihood that there will be additional changes in the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Although pharmaceutical manufacturers like Pfizer are ready to tweak their vaccines to match new variants, that takes time. The prospect of a universal vaccine for coronavirus infections is very appealing.
Could There Be a Universal Vaccine?
Such a universal vaccine is no longer a mere fantasy. Investigators at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research are hopeful about a new vaccine they have developed against COVID and other coronaviruses. After two years of intense research, they have recently concluded animal and human trials. A trial in rhesus macaques succeeded in eliciting neutralizing antibodies against several variants of concern (Science Translational Medicine, Dec. 16, 2021).
The scientists reported
“robust and rapid reduction in replicating virus in the upper and lower airways of animals and resultant prevention of pulmonary pathology.”
Omicron showed up after the animal trials were completed, but researchers will include it as part of the coming clinical trials.
How Does the New Vaccine Work?
The Spike Ferritin Nanoparticle COVID-19 vaccine utilizes a unique soccer-ball shaped protein that attaches to spikes from a variety of coronavirus strains. These spikes trigger the immune system to recognize and respond to coronavirus with different mutations.
In addition to the SpFN universal vaccine itself, the investigators administered a special “adjuvant” developed by the Army. They designed the adjuvant to increase the immune response to vaccines. The adjuvant does not contain aluminum or mercury. Instead, it consists of liposomes of phospholipids, cholesterol and a compound from the soap bark tree.
In conclusion, researchers hope that this proposed universal vaccine will be effective against Omicron and all future SARS-CoV-2 variants. The vaccine may not be fully tested in time to prevent the spread of Omicron. On the other hand, it may help against future variants of COVID-19 or other coronaviruses.