2nd Generation COVID-19 Vaccines Are on Their Way

Barely a year after COVID-19 made its ominous global appearance we already have three widely approved vaccines to combat the virus. Two of the drugs manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna use a novel genetic technology called mRNA to teach the immune system to recognize enemy invaders. The third, a vaccine made by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, offers a more traditional approach by utilizing a weakened chimpanzee virus to combat the disease. While other countries such as Russia and China have developed their own vaccines, they are not widely approved.

But according to Scientific American, these timely and critical vaccines are not enough to quell the pandemic, especially with the virus variants we are already seeing.

“I believe that this virus is going to change and that the vaccines we have approved right now are just not going to be as effective as we think they are,” said Danny Altman, professor of immunology at Imperial College of London, according to Scientific American. Altman and other experts point out that there is a lot we do not know about the current COVID-19 vaccines, but the most important question is how long they offer protection. If the vaccine offer immunity for only six months, we may be facing a more virulent version of the pathogen down the road.

Fortunately, there are hundreds of vaccines down the pipeline that will be cheaper and easier to distribute than the first generation of drugs. Here are a few of the most encouraging candidates:

The Imperial College of London has developed a variation of the mRNA vaccine called the saRNA, or self-amplifying RNA, that makes copies of itself so a booster shot is not necessary. The vaccine dose is also very small so millions of doses can be administered quickly and efficiently worldwide even to the most vulnerable populations. So far, it has shown to be effective in animal studies.

A Maryland-based company called Novavax has developed a vaccine that delivers the whole spike protein made by engineering moth cells, says Scientific American. It’s stored at normal refrigeration temperature making it easy to distribute. According to National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, these subunit vaccines include only the components that best stimulate the immune system but do require an additive, or adjuvant, to elicit a strong enough immune response. In this case, Novavax uses saponin, a compound made from the bark of the Chilean soapbark tree as the adjuvant.

The University of Washington has also developed a vaccine that uses proteins from the novel coronavirus but has chosen to deliver just a portion of the spike protein, the section that attaches to human cells, according to Scientific American. These nanoparticles appear to elicit antibody responses that are 10 times higher than using the whole, natural spike protein. This vaccine is in early-stage human trials and if they are successful, the vaccine could be made public in late 2021.

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