Although there are dozens of vaccine candidates currently seeking to be the ultimate answer to the ravaging coronavirus disease, COVID-19, the fear in the scientific community is whether the genetic diversity in the strains of the virus will make this possible.
Now, a recent study at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) in the United States has put paid to that anxiety, confirming that indeed, hopes are high on the efficacy of one universally effective vaccine.
According to the lead researcher for the study, Morgane Rolland, who is the chief of viral genetics and system serology for the military HIV research programme, at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, “the question we wanted to ask … [was] that there is this diversity and we expect that this virus will change over time but [so] what does it matter in terms of the immunogenicity of a vaccine?”
To address this question, Ms Rolland’s team poured through 18,514 independent virus genome sequences sampled from individuals in 84 countries and scanned them for variation, including all the sequences available from Nigeria, and “over all, there is still not much that has changed when you compare sequences to the first sequence from China,” she told PREMIUM TIMES in a zoom interview from France on Monday.
Although most of the genome samples used for the study were from outside Africa, Ms Rolland infers that a global vaccine is feasible given that there is no significant variation (difference) between the current sequences obtained from Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID)-a global science initiative, and primary source for genomic data on influenza viruses and the novel coronavirus responsible for COVID-19.
Does this then mean that wild cat variations and strains from other African samples could not pose challenges to the assumptions informing the efficacy of a global vaccine? Ms Rolland said she really does not think so, “although we cannot say what will happen in two years but the vaccines under development currently will be applicable in Africa as in Europe and the U.S,” implying that one vaccine can cater to all the strains of coronavirus circulating in all parts of the world despite its mutation on account of current knowledge.
Commenting on the recent argument around herd immunity as a way to contain the spread of the virus, “I think that there is a clear consensus from the scientific community that this is not a good idea because the consequences are too furious in terms of how many people are dying but this is really not my field”, Ms Rolland said.
Ms Rolland said the ongoing collaboration among scientists in the wake of the pandemic is great and she thinks it will continue. Chuckling, she added that this has been a push for the science community to make data available.
Ms Rolland is employed by the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, Inc. and has conducted research at WRAIR since 2010.
A lot of vaccines under development focus on the spike protein which is what helps the virus gain access into the host, so if the interaction between the spike and the receptor (host) is blocked, the virus is denied access to the cells and people will not get infected.
In a press release from the institute (WRAIR), a vaccine candidate built on a Spike Ferritin Nanoparticle (SpFN) platform is being developed and is expected to enter human testing before 2021. Kayvon Modjarrad co-leads the Institute’s COVID-19 response efforts, including the development of a vaccine against COVID-19.
The vaccine is paired with a proprietary adjuvant that was also developed at WRAIR, the Army Liposome Formulation (ALF), to further boost the immune response.
“Scientists are working hard to accelerate the development of a COVID-19 vaccine that is safe and effective for the entire world, now and in the years to come. These data are critical to informing the field’s collective efforts in getting a vaccine that is rapidly scalable and universally applicable to all populations,” Mr Modjarrad said.