Only year on year vaccine investment can contain new COVID-19 strains
Booster jabs from tweaked COVID-19 vaccines are a must until a universal vaccine breakthrough is made, according to the World Nano Foundation (WNF). And they called for continued heavy investment in vaccine research.
WNF, a not-for-profit promoter of nanotechnology, Co-Founder Paul Sheedy said current COVID-19 vaccines are designed to protect us against emerging variants, but it is still possible for new variants to develop and bypass current vaccines, causing more deaths and lockdowns.
“Many believe the solution lies in universal vaccines able to immunize us against all strains of a disease, but this technology is not yet available,” he added.
Sheedy said we should think of the virus as one of those lollipop displays in shops, with the sticks coming out from the centre of the virus as lollipops in the stand and minor mutations occur on the ‘lollipops sticks’ and can be targeted by current vaccine technology, but similar to how the ‘flavour’ of lollipops may change on a display stand, new variants of the virus will appear that current vaccines may not be able to recognize and prevent.
“A universal vaccine would instead recognise the ‘lollipop stand’ instead of the individual flavours, it does not care what the new variants or ‘flavours’’ are or if they change, so it will arm the body to attack anything from that virus family or ‘the stand’ itself,” he said.
He said that a universal vaccine that targets the ‘strand’ instead of the changing ‘flavours’ is very hard to developed, because vaccine development is not easy, especially when you consider that vaccines against diseases such as HIV, which has been around since the 1980s have still not been developed.
Sheedy believes the universal vaccine ‘code’ will be cracked eventually but, in the meantime, medical science must rely upon continual modification of vaccines, in the same way as influenza is controlled.
“Although we can not yet be proactive through the application of universal vaccine, we can plan the best of our ability, quickly identifying or anticipating new strains and tweaking vaccines year on year to protect us continually,” he added.
He said this strategy is more than achievable, especially after 2020-2021 mass vaccine roll out and investment into healthcare technology is already rising, soaring 47% to a new high of US$51 billion last year and figures show the global healthcare industry is expected to be worth over US$10 trillion by 2020 on a 10 year upward trajectory.
Kojo Annan, Co-Founder of the Vector Innovation Fund (VIF) said if there is to be an improvement in the healthcare systems and vaccine technology, investment on this scale must be maintained. VIF recently launched a US$300 million international sub-fund for pandemic protection and future healthcare, which is part of a wider billion-dollar fund for enabling technologies for sustainability and longevity of life.
“In 30 years, our healthcare systems could be improved to an unrecognisable level compared to now, as long as we invest, therefore, vaccines could be developed in days instead of months, human trials may no longer be required and we could create therapies to treat and cure patients suffering from some of the world’s deadliest diseased,” he said.
He said health-tech companies are already delivering some game-changing innovations, and a flood of these could come through soon if there is continued investment.