Why the COVID XBB.1.5 variant is spreading so quickly in the United States
Why are we still seeing new COVID-19 variants like XBB.1.5? Here’s what we know.
Just the FAQ, USA TODAY
In some ways, we have been lucky with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The virus that causes it is highly contagious but not as deadly as others in its coronavirus family. The original SARS virus killed about 1 in 10 infected people; a relative called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, still kills 1 in 3 people.
But we may not always be so lucky. With animals, including bats, colonized by hundreds of coronaviruses, another could come with the infectivity of SARS-CoV-2 and the death rate of MERS.
Hoping to prevent this, scientists on Tuesday unveiled a “roadmap” for developing a new vaccine that would be broadly protective against all coronaviruses.
If given in advance, such a vaccine could ideally prevent a future pandemic of this type of virus, said Michael Osterholm, who directs the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, which helps to lead the effort.
“Can we achieve it? We don’t know,” he said. “We won’t know until we try.”
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Need for new vaccines
Vaccines developed to fight COVID-19 “are remarkable” but have limitations, said Dr. Bruce Gellin, head of global public health strategy for the Rockefeller Foundation’s Pandemic Prevention Institute.
“We want to be better prepared and not chase viruses (or variants) as they emerge,” he said.
The Rockefeller Group and the Gates Foundation are partners in the initiative with the Osterholm center, which helped develop similar roadmaps for influenza, Ebola, Marburg, Lassa and Zika viruses.
By combining their efforts, the three organizations hope it will inspire others to join the effort and “compress the timeline” needed to develop safe and effective next-generation vaccines, Gellin said.
The US government set aside $10 billion at the start of the pandemic to develop and purchase the current generation of vaccines. There was no similar effort for the next generation.
“It’s a matter of time,” Gellin said. “How much can you do now to shorten the time when you need it?”
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What’s in the roadmap?
The map includes timelines and targets for five main goals:
- Understanding coronaviruses in nature to determine the range of protection needed for future vaccines.
- To develop vaccines that will provide safe and long-lasting protection against the entire family of coronaviruses and that can be manufactured on a large scale around the world.
- Better understand the immune response to vaccines to accelerate development.
- Develop animal models to test candidate vaccines.
- Encourage political support and funding.
The roadmap presents strategies and milestones for achieving each of these goals. For example, by 2024, the group wants to establish a collaborative international surveillance program to rapidly identify, characterize, and share information about SARS-CoV-2 variants, similar to how the World Health Organization tracks. flu variants.
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What a future vaccine could look like
The plan outlines three possible visions for future vaccines.
The first is a vaccine given as part of a routine vaccination program for children or adults that would protect against variants of the current SARS-CoV-2 virus, as well as other coronaviruses that may arise.
Second, the use of vaccines as part of a pandemic preparedness strategy, making vaccines available that could protect against novel coronaviruses. These vaccines could be stockpiled to quickly interrupt transmission and prevent an outbreak from becoming a global pandemic.
A third option could be a combination of the two, in which routine vaccinations could be provided to people at high risk of serious illness or exposure to a new virus, such as healthcare workers, with more vaccines in reserve in epidemic case.
All three should be affordable and usable in all regions of the world, including low-income countries; be able to prevent serious disease and, ideally, transmission; protect against a wide range of coronaviruses; provide protection for at least one year; and be safe for everyone, including children, pregnant women, and immunocompromised people.
Everyone wants to get out of the COVID-19 pandemic, but no one ever wants to be in that situation again. The goal of the roadmap, Gellin said, is “to stay on our toes when the appetite and the resources to do so are lower than they were during the full-fledged emergency.”
Although the map indicates the route, it does not assign specific responsibilities and cannot compel anyone to take action, Osterholm said.
But at least it can help government, philanthropists and researchers understand what’s going on and what needs to happen next, he said.
“Everyone has a totally transparent view of what needs to be done and what gets done – or what doesn’t get done.”
Contact Karen Weintraub at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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