The Army’s ‘universal vaccine’ aims to end all COVID pandemics

Effective in early trials, an Army vaccine could protect against all coronaviruses. Learn how it works and when it could be available.

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The Army’s COVID vaccine entered clinical trials in March 2021.Sgt. Tanis Kilgore/US Army

The Army recently announced that its pan-coronavirus vaccine, the spike ferritin nanoparticle COVID-19 vaccine (aka SpFN) had completed Phase 1 of human trials with positive results. Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, director of infectious diseases at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) and co-inventor of SpFN, told Defense One, “We’re testing our vaccine against all the different variants, including omicron,” the strain causing breakthrough infections even in people who have received booster shots. 

SpFN still needs to undergo Phase 2 and 3 human trials, though, to test its efficacy and safety in comparison to current treatments, Modjarrad said. 

We’ll share what we know about pan-coronavirus vaccines and the Army’s COVID-19 vaccine, including how it works and when it could become available.

Why do we need a pan-coronavirus vaccine?

White House Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci recently touted the importance of a universal vaccine to protect against all COVID variants. In an interview with NBC, Fauci said a universal COVID vaccine “would mean that the initial vaccination would cover all of these little variants, so you wouldn’t have to worry.”

“We want a pan-coronavirus vaccine so that you have it on the shelf to respond to the next viral pandemic,” Fauci said. “Ultimately, you want to get a vaccine that covers everything.”

Fauci’s organization, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, committed big to that goal in fall 2021, awarding $36.3 million to three academic organizations — Duke University, University of Wisconsin, and Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital — to develop and research pan-coronavirus vaccines. CalTech also has announced good early results for its universal “mosaic nanoparticle” vaccine.

What is the US Army COVID vaccine?

The three COVID-19 vaccines authorized right now for use in the US take two approaches to preventing infection: The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use mRNA to build up immunity, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses a harmless rhinovirus to train the body’s immune system to respond to COVID.

The Spike Ferritin Nanoparticle COVID-19 vaccine, or SpFN, takes a third approach, using a harmless portion of the COVID-19 virus to spur the body’s defenses against COVID.

SpFN also has less restrictive storage and handling requirements than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, allowing it to be used in a wider variety of situations. It can be stored between 36 and 46 degrees Fahrenheit for up to six months and at room temperature for up to one month, according to military scientists. Pfizer’s vaccine requires an ultracold freezer (between minus 112 and minus 76 degrees F) for shipment and storage and is only stable for 31 days when stored in a refrigerator.

The Army’s vaccine has been tested with two shots, 28 days apart, and also with a third shot after six months.

How does the Army vaccine work against COVID-19 and other coronaviruses?

The vaccines from Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson all target the specific virus — SARS-CoV-2 — that causes COVID-19. But Army scientists designed their vaccine to protect against future strains of COVID as well as other coronaviruses.

The Army’s SpFN vaccine is shaped like a soccer ball with 24 faces. Scientists can attach the spikes of multiple coronavirus strains to each of the different faces, allowing them to customize the vaccine for any new COVID variants that arise.

“The accelerating emergence of human coronaviruses throughout the past two decades and the rise of SARS-CoV-2 variants, including most recently omicron, underscore the continued need for next-generation preemptive vaccines that confer broad protection against coronavirus diseases,” Modjarrad said in a December statement. “Our strategy has been to develop a ‘pan-coronavirus’ vaccine technology that could potentially offer safe, effective and durable protection against multiple coronavirus strains and species.”

When will the Army’s COVID vaccine be available?

No date has been set. SpFN successfully completed animal testing and wrapped Phase 1 of human trials in December, but it must still complete Phases 2 and 3 of human testing, when its safety and efficacy is compared to current vaccine options. 

Normally, completing all three phases can take up to five years, but the urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic is speeding up the process. The Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, for example, were tested, reviewed and authorized by the Food and Drug Administration over the course of one year. 

Article by Peter Butler for C|NET©

Source: The Army’s ‘universal vaccine’ aims to end all COVID pandemics (cnet.com)

Author: Dennis Hickey

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