The addition of the BA.5 variant is prompting Operation Warp Speed 2.0 funding to accelerate the development of next-generation Covid-19 vaccines that can better target new variants.
The BA.5 sub-variant, which currently accounts for the majority of US Covid-19 cases, has raised concerns about Omicron because of the ability of previous strains of the virus to escape protection from current vaccines.
Pfizer and Moderna are working on updated vaccines targeting BA.5 that could be ready this fall, but by the time they are ready, experts say a new variant could well have caught on.
As an alternative to vaccinators chasing every variant, experts point to research into “pan-coronavirus” vaccines, “alternative-evidence,” nasal vaccines that target multiple variants and also greatly reduce the spread of the virus.
There is ongoing research into these next-generation vaccines, but unlike in 2020, when the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed helped expedite the first vaccine, this time funding and assistance is minimal.
Funding for Covid-19 to help speed the development and production of new vaccines has been stalled in Congress for months.
“There is no operational warp speed,” said Eric Topol, professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research. “So it’s moving very slowly. But at least it moves.
Leanna Wen, professor of public health at George Washington University By A The Washington Post said this week that America needs “urgent investment” in next-generation vaccines and that “we need Operation Warp Speed Part 2.”
“It’s not going to work to keep playing whack-a-mole” by trying to tailor vaccines to each variant, she said in an interview.
But Topol said the Biden administration has been hampered by a lack of funding from Congress to bolster efforts on improved vaccines.
“Those who are interested in the administration, they cannot get any funding for their roadblocks,” he said.
Administration health officials pointed to funding at a press conference Tuesday when asked about next-generation vaccines.
“We need resources to continue that effort and accelerate that effort,” said Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert. “So even though we are doing a lot, the field looks promising, but we really need to have a continuous flow of resources to continue.”
But Covid-19 funding has been stuck in Congress for months. Republicans have long said they see no urgency to approve the money. Democrats, like a group of House Democrats, have been trapped in their own chambers while demanding the funding in general. He resisted The way to pay for the new funding in March.
“Certainly additional funding will accelerate some aspects of development,” Karin Bock, acting deputy director of the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Vaccine Research Center, said in an interview.
She warned that developing next-generation vaccines, such as nasal vaccines, will take longer than the first vaccines because less groundwork has been laid over the years.
Experts say that even for BA.5, current vaccines still provide significant protection against serious illness and hospitalization, and urge people to get booster shots now. But there is room for further improvement in vaccines.
Pamela Bjorkman, a professor at the California Institute of Technology, said that in addition to funding, another obstacle is to using existing COVID-19 vaccines for research. in a The next generation vaccine.
“I would say we have wasted at least six months.” “It’s just funny.”
For example, once her team was able to get AstraZeneca a COVID-19 vaccine, it took two or three months to get an import license to ship it from the United Kingdom.
“It’s a hot topic,” Bock of the NIH told researchers about finding current vaccine doses. “The government is working very hard on an agreement with the companies to provide it to us and all the investigators… through NIH funding.”
When asked about providing vaccine doses to researchers and any talks with the administration, a Moderna spokesperson said: “We will provide vaccines in studies initiated by certain researchers that doctors and scientists have designed and want to work with our support.” ” It signifies. A case study of South Africa.
More broadly, the White House has said it is working to accelerate next-generation vaccine research and will have more announcements soon.
“Let me be very clear, we need a real next-generation vaccine,” Ashish Jha, the White House’s co-ordinator of the Covid-19 response, said on Tuesday.
“You will be hearing more from us in the coming days and weeks,” he added. “This is something we’ve been working very hard on.”