SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, has been morphing to stay alive — and there are now at least 11 variants and subvariants, according to one health site.
Scientists have noted that various vaccines out there — all created to battle the original strain — are less effective against newer variants.
“While two doses of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine were 85% effective in preventing hospital admission for infection with the Alpha and Delta variants of SARS-CoV-2, they were only 65% effective in preventing hospitalization following an Omicron infection,” Medical News Today noted in a report on Thursday.
But now, two pharmaceutical giants, Pfizer and BioNTech, are working together to create a new super “universal” vaccine that will target multiple variants of the virus.
“A universal coronavirus vaccine has the potential to better protect against future variants of SARS-CoV-2 as well as other coronaviruses that have the potential to spill over into the human population,” Dr. Jarrod Mousa, assistant professor at the Center for Vaccines and Immunology at the University of Georgia, told MNT.
Researchers say boosters and new vaccines might not be needed with a universal vaccine.
But the scientists warn creating such a super vaccine will not be easy.
“Things we can look for in deciding the success of new or newer generation vaccines will be things like lasting — or durable — protection from infection, reductions in hospitalization and severe disease many months after vaccination, and inducement of immune response to new or unknown variants in the future,” Dr. Dana Hawkinson, infectious diseases and medical director of the Infection Control and Prevention (IPAC) program at The University of Kansas Health System, told MNT.
“In addition, as it would be a universal coronavirus vaccine, it should help protect us from further spillover events of animal coronaviruses as we have seen with SARS, MERS, and SARS-CoV-2,” he noted.
The new effort comes as scientists are increasingly worried about a couple of new strains of SARS-CoV-2, noting that the variants appear to be able to slip past some antibodies against the virus and attack the lungs, according to a new report.
The subvariants of the now-dominant Omicron variant — dubbed BA.4 and BA.5 — appear to evade antibodies from prior infection or vaccination, making them more easily spread than other forms of the COVID-causing virus, The Daily Beast reported. It is possible the new subvariants have evolved to target the lungs, going deeper into the respiratory tract than the less-dangerous Omicron, the outlet reported.
The Omicron variant has proven more contagious than earlier strains of the virus, but symptoms are most often far less severe. Scientists are hopeful the same holds true for the new subvariants, and so far, in the United Kingdom, where the variants have been found, hospitalizations and deaths have not increased dramatically.
“This could mean higher transmissible variants, BA.4 or 5, are in play, [and] these variants are much less severe,” Edwin Michael, an epidemiologist at the Center for Global Health Infectious Disease Research at the University of South Florida, told the Beast.
Joseph Curl has covered politics for 35 years, including 12 years as White House correspondent for a national newspaper. He was also the a.m. editor of the Drudge Report for four years. Send tips to [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @josephcurl.