Ongoing studies concern the new variants, but also simpler administration mechanisms, for example via the nose, and without refrigeration.
“This is not the time to rest on our laurels. Now that we are producing large quantities of vaccines globally – we will have produced 12 billion by the end of the year – and slowly starting to straighten the inequalities in their distribution, there are challenges that point to the need to invest in research. The objectives: to optimize the vaccines we have, but also to develop second and third generation vaccines that are both resistant to variants and easier to administer and for example do not require refrigeration. In short, we must invest to stay one step ahead of the virus ».
The American Richard Hatchett speaks, formerly in the White House under the presidency of George W. Bush and then that of Barack Obama, now CEO of CEPI (Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovation), a partnership of public and private subjects launched in Davos in 2017, which co-manages Covax with the WHO and with Gavi, and is supported by the G20 on the theme of preparing for the epidemics of the future. CEPI, which helped fund the initial development of COVID-19 vaccines, aims to raise $ 3.5 billion for global epidemic and pandemic risk reduction through vaccine development and equitable distribution.
Where are we in the development of next generation vaccines?
«CEPI has opened to proposals for a vaccine that protects against betacoronaviruses, that is, not only from SARS-CoV-2 but from SARS, MERS and other coronaviruses that will emerge in the future. We are going to review the proposals received and decide which ones we want to support. CEPI has already invested in some second generation vaccines: we will not have them in 2021, if we are lucky in 2022. In addition to dealing with the new variants, there is the goal of developing vaccines that are simpler to administer, which do not require rigorous cold chain or involving a single dose. With the University of Hong Kong we have invested in a nasal, needle-free vaccine that can block the transmission of the virus through mucosal immunity, protecting the upper airways. This is just an idea. We are about to announce a vaccine program that includes other parts of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, not just the spike protein but a broader antigenic repertoire. ‘
Why is this important?
“All the vaccines we have at the moment use this protein spike but there are many mutations in that part of the virus, so we need to develop vaccines that are not susceptible to small changes in the spike protein or receptor binding domain: a different conceptual approach is needed in order to anticipate rather than chase the virus. ‘
Is it possible to imagine that there will be a universal vaccine against all coronaviruses?
“Several virologists think it may be easier to come up with a universal coronavirus vaccine than a universal flu vaccine, something we’ve been trying to do for many years but don’t have it yet. If we succeed, coronaviruses would no longer be a threat. And Covid is certainly not the worst: when I worked for the Bush White House, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a pandemic severity index modeled on that of hurricanes, with five categories, beatings on lethality and the number of victims : Covid is only category 2 or 3 in this model. We know that there are other SARS and MERS-type coronaviruses with a lethality rate 20-50 times greater than Covid, so I think the search for a universal vaccine is really important. We have proof that it is possible to obtain a universal vaccine for a viral family, for example the one we use against smallpox protects against all the viruses of the Orthopoxvirus family ».
How should we imagine the future: continuous recalls of the coronavirus vaccine?
“Some vaccines provide lifelong immunity, others require boosters every 10 or 5 years, still others like the flu are annual. One possibility, if it comes to developing a vaccine that produces lasting immunity, that works against several variants, is to have boosters every 5-10 years. We are also studying the mix and match approach, i.e. what happens if people use one vaccine and booster another: initial studies show that mixing, at least in certain combinations, can generate wider protection. In the next few years we will optimize the vaccines we already have and perhaps in this way we will be able to achieve long-lasting immunity, but research is needed to prove this. There are potentially several ways to overcome the current situation of having to call back every 6 months. This is why we must continue to invest in research and development, while at the same time making sure that vaccines are accessible to the entire population ”.
There are still many difficulties in equitable access to vaccines around the world. Do you think that local production on continents like Africa can help?
“I don’t think it will be part of the solution right now, because it’s something that takes time. But in the future, yes. Inequalities in vaccine distribution are linked to concentrated production in the United States, Europe, India and China, which have large populations to serve. We will have to create a more localized production system that allows greater self-sufficiency ».
October 18, 2021 (change October 18, 2021 | 19:40)
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