Scientists race to develop variant-proof 'super vaccine'

We have heard for over a year now about the promise COVID-19 vaccines bring for a safer society. But the potential that new variants could one day evade the vaccine has scientists from Pfizer and Moderna racing to develop yet another new type of vaccine that many are calling a ‘super vaccine,’ which could be variant-proof.

They are focusing on the spike protein of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) which has evolved in the omicron variant to the point it may have become more evasive than other variants.

"What they are going to do is take the blood from people that have been vaccinated or infected, and see if that blood can prevent the virus they have isolated from growing in a lab," said Dr. Michael Teng, a virologist at USF Health.

Perhaps even more important, though, is figuring out how to isolate the parts of the spike protein that don't change. Then the goal would be to create a vaccine that targets only those parts.

Illustration from Johns Hopkins shows part of process of vaccine fighting virus

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"If you can induce these antibodies against all the other parts of the protein, which are not changing, then you can hit every single virus, regardless of what variant it is."

Perhaps a so-called "super vaccine" seems like it'd be easier said than done, but Moderna said in a news release this week that they have already been studying two separate multi-variant vaccines in about 600 people

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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In some cases, they have even narrowed down effective dose amounts.

"Since we have proven that making small variations in these vaccines now that have already been proven safe, it will be a much quicker process," said Dr. Bruce Rankin of Accel Clinical Research in Deland, FL.

Dr. Teng says studies in mice have shown promise. 

With studies on people now crucial, the Norway-based Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations says it is funding research in Canada on variant-proof vaccines

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"What they think is that if you vaccinate against two different viruses in the same family of viruses, you might be able to get really broad range of antibodies that will protect against a number of different viruses," said Teng.

Moderna also says it is rapidly developing a vaccine just for the omicron variant, which will be ready for testing in two months.