(MENAFN- Trend News Agency)
Scientists fear the omicron shots coming this fall won't be much
better at keeping people from getting Covid-19 than what's come
before. That's pushing drugmakers to start working on
next-generation vaccines that don't have to be updated that often,
if at all, Trend reports citing Al Arabiya .
Testing shows that omicron-specific vaccines under development
at Moderna Inc. and the partnership of Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE
will be“little or no better than the currently available
boosters,” according to John Moore, a professor of microbiology and
immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College.
“The benefit of switching composition is barely detectable,”
Both Moderna and Pfizer said their omicron-specific vaccines
raised more antibodies to the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron subvariants
than current formulations.
But the concern remains that the virus is changing so quickly,
boosters simply can't keep up.
Today's dominant variants may have been replaced by new strains
come late September when the new shots are ready, said Greg Poland,
head of the Mayo Clinic's vaccine research group.
The US needs to focus efforts on next-generation vaccine
technology to give more durable protection, said Anthony Fauci,
President Joe Biden's chief medical adviser.
“Even with the highly flexible platform of mRNA, which is more
flexible than virtually anything we've had before, it's going to be
very difficult to keep up with the pace of newly evolving
variants,” Fauci said in an interview.“Which gets us to the
question: What about a pan-coronavirus vaccine?”
Pfizer's leaders had earlier suggested that they weren't focusing
on development of an all-encompassing shot. But laboratory evidence
has raised the stakes.
In June, Pfizer and BioNTech research showed their bivalent
omicron-adapted vaccine candidates neutralized BA.4 and BA.5,
though to a lesser extent than the original omicron variant, BA.1,
prompting the Biden administration to ask for shots that were
focused on the newer subvariants.
The original vaccines remain protective against severe disease
and hospitalization. But as new variants continue to emerge, the
shots, which are based on genetic material from the original strain
that spread from China's Wuhan province, have become less effective
at preventing infections because they're so different from the
variants currently circulating.
“We're pretty much screwed,” Poland said, unless drugmakers come
up with shots offering stronger protection.
Concern about vaccine durability came up in an April meeting of
US health advisers who were debating whether continuous boosting
with the currently available vaccines was a suitable strategy.
While vaccines are highly effective against severe illness,
hospitalization and death, they expressed concern that the virus
will continue to mutate in people who get infected.
“We should be thinking about how to make a better vaccine,” Lynn
Bahta, a panelist and an official with the Minnesota Department of
Health, said.“We need to use our expertise to advocate for
something that's better, or something that can really resolve the
ill effects of disease whether it's mild or severe.”
Moderna said it's developing a next-generation Covid vaccine
that potentially delivers higher potency, longer durability and
enhanced shelf-life. The vaccine is already in clinical trials, the
company said in an email.
Pfizer is aiming to use new technology to extend the durability
of protection against severe Covid and new variants, Chief
Scientific Officer Mikael Dolsten told Bloomberg in an
The company's aim is to use closely guarded tech, referred to as
its“secret sauce” by Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla, to
confer a full year of protection.
Waning immunity from the shot is“the No. 1 thing we're trying
to fix,” Bourla said. The company expects to have“broader coverage
in terms of variants.
At the end of July, Pfizer and BioNTech started trials of new
shots that fight multiple strains at once. This is the beginning of
the new strategy to generate longer-lasting immune responses.
While details are scant, the new shots contain two major
changes. One is a refined, optimized approach to making copies of
the spike protein that the coronavirus uses to enter cells.
The vaccine induces cells to make this protein -- which is where
vaccine-avoiding mutations usually occur -- to protect against real
Pfizer's also working on enhancing the response of immune
T-cells that are important for protecting against severe Covid
cases. Dolsten was guarded in describing the change, saying only
that“it will have more components.
In addition, Bourla said, the company is trying to cut the time
needed to develop new versions of the vaccine to two months from
But that urgency needs to be matched by regulators at the Food and
Drug Administration. As the world grappled with mounting death
tolls at the beginning of the pandemic, then-President Donald
Trump's Operation Warp Speed kicked into gear, bolstering
public-private partnerships to make sure a vaccine was created as
soon as possible.
Today, the FDA is back to moving at its typical glacial pace,
said Moore, the Weill Cornell Medical College immunologist.
“We need updated processes like the ones that allowed systems to
work quickly,” he said.
The FDA is encouraging scientists, the National Institutes of
Health, and vaccine manufacturers to develop vaccines that will
work across the spectrum of coronavirus versions, Commissioner
Robert Califf said late last month in a press call, but those
efforts will likely require additional federal funding.
“It's totally within the realm of possibility scientifically
that better vaccines can be developed,” he said.“It's just going
to take time.”
Fauci, who also heads the NIH's National Institute of Allergy
and Infectious Diseases, said the agency is funding a few different
approaches to create a pan-coronavirus vaccine as well as
conducting studies looking at preventives that prepare vulnerable
tissues to fight infection.
For example, the agency is funding efforts to boost protection
in the nasal mucosa, where Covid often takes root.
For now, the shots on the market do offer substantial protection
against severe disease and hospitalization, and booster shots have
an added benefit for people who are older and have weakened immune
A study published in July in The Lancet Regional Health medical
journal suggested that people 80 and over in Sweden received 71
percent additional protection against death in the first two months
after four doses of vaccine, compared with those who had received
three doses. Protection against death declined to 54 percent in the
weeks after that.
The BA.4 and BA.5 shots coming this fall are“the best that we
can do under the circumstances,” Fauci said. While they may be less
effective at preventing infections, they still do keep people out
of the hospital, he said.
“The general public absolutely should keep up-to-date in their
boosters,” Fauci said.“The data are striking — hospitalizations
and deaths are very heavily weighted towards people who are
unvaccinated or are not boosted, particularly if you're an elderly