A new article from a quartet of scientific leaders, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), is outlining the challenges to overcome in the development of a COVID-19 vaccine over the next one to two years. The scientists suggest it will take not one, but multiple successful vaccines, to get through this pandemic and return to normality.
“We’re experiencing a series of unprecedented events with a disease that has spread globally and infected more people in a shorter time than any other infection in modern times,” says co-author Larry Corey, a professor in the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. “In order to overcome the challenges in front of us, we each need to bring nothing short of our absolute best. The research and development of COVID-19 vaccines will require creativity, cooperation and commitment to save as many lives as possible as soon as we can.”
Alongside Fauci and Corey, the article is co-authored by Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and John Mascola, director of NIAID’s Vaccine Research Center. The article discusses several questions that will need to be resolved before a vaccine can be effectively deployed. Alongside the still unanswered issues surrounding immunity and reinfection, the article raises the controversial topic of human challenge trials.
Human challenge trials are a rarely used vaccine development strategy whereby healthy volunteers are deliberately exposed to an infectious agent. There have been calls for human challenge trials to be deployed in this current context as a way to accelerate the vaccine development process.
The authors of the article express concern over the safety, and utility, of human challenge trials in the context of developing a COVID-19 vaccine. They suggest efficacy in young healthy adults does not necessarily translate to other at-risk demographics and an independent panel of ethicists must evaluate this strategy if it were to be deployed.
Discussing the variety of vaccines currently in the development, the article suggests several different vaccines must be successful in order to effectively meet the world’s needs.
“No single vaccine or vaccine platform alone is likely to meet the global need, and so a strategic approach to the multi-pronged endeavor is absolutely critical,” the authors write in the article.
Professor Kim Mulholland, a vaccine scientist from Australia’s Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, echoed this need for multiple vaccines in a recent interview with New Atlas. He suggested, as many vaccines in development are based in similar scientific hypotheses, if one is successful then there will be success with others. And if there are several successful vaccines then they could be more swiftly deployed around the entire world.
“If [targeting the spike protein] proves to be an effective strategy then it’s more likely than not there will be a string of successful vaccines,” said Professor Mulholland. “And that might be the best outcome. If I was going to bet on something, I would bet on that. There’ll be more than one that will be successful, and they’ll be based on the spike protein.”
The ultimate message of the article is a general call for harmonious global collaboration across vaccine development, manufacture and distribution processes.
“The full development pathway for an effective vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 will require that industry, government, and academia collaborate in unprecedented ways, each adding their individual strengths,” the article states. “Global effort, global cooperation, and transparency are needed to maximize the speed, veracity, and decision-making required to deliver scientific advances to the global population in a timely fashion. Models for all of these programs exist, and rapid implementation of these ideas is essential if we are to succeed in the timelines required to return us to pre–COVID-19 social interactions.”
The full article can be read in the journal Science.
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