Researchers call for “global effort” to develop universal vaccine effective against future variants and viruses of the same family


“Creating the tools to prevent the next coronavirus pandemic is within our grasp and should be seen as a global health priority,” epidemiologists Wayne Koff and Seth Berkley wrote in an editorial published by the journal Science. Both are heads of organizations promoting vaccines.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, and the one causing Covid-19 disease is called SARS-CoV-2. Variants have gradually appeared, which experts fear that one of them may one day be completely resistant to vaccines currently developed specifically against the strain virus discovered in 2019. The South African variant has already shown that it could reduce some. efficiency.

Before that, in 2002, a coronavirus had triggered a quickly contained epidemic, causing a disease called SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). Then in 2012, another coronavirus, MERS-CoV (for Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus), appeared in Saudi Arabia.

There are “thousands” of these viruses “capable of infecting a large number of animals”, from which they could be transmitted to humans, explain the two experts.

“There is a growing possibility that other coronaviruses will jump from one species to another,” they add. In particular: the appropriation of new territories by a growing population, which can cause contact with certain animals “previously isolated”, and the development of international travel, which makes possible a rapid spread of a disease on a global scale. .

And if vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 have been developed very quickly, it is not said that the same feat is possible for the next ones, they argue.

However, the progress made recently could make it possible to anticipate, because they have “the potential to greatly accelerate the identification of target antigens shared by the coronaviruses”, that is to say of common traits that can be used to develop a defense. aiming them.

Pushing research in this direction “must be a global effort”, they argue.

An effort that would prove to be profitable: the cost of the current pandemic (between 8,000 and 16,000 billion dollars according to them), is “about 500 times” higher than the sums that should be committed to develop this vaccine.

Last week, two other researchers also pleaded for the development of such a vaccine in another prestigious scientific journal, Nature.

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