RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Duke University is developing a vaccine to stay ahead of COVID-19 variants. This shot might also stop new viruses from jumping from animals to humans like the coronavirus did.
The combination of three new findings may make it the most promising vaccine yet.
“It’s just been a fulfilling, a rewarding experience to hopefully have an effect on the pandemic,” said Kevin Saunders, director of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute. Saunders switched from working on an HIV vaccine to COVID-19 last spring.
He said Duke’s COVID-19 vaccine looks promising in its animal trials so far. It could be used alone or as a booster shot for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
“You get really good protection whether they received the mRNA vaccine first or whether or not they received only the nano-particle vaccine,” Saunders said.
Studies have shown the variants are decreasing vaccine efficacy by up to 10-fold. Saunders said their vaccine was only decreased three-fold. He said it was shown to do well against the Brazil, South Africa, and United Kingdom variants.
“We were able to have more potent immunity against some of the variants compared to the mRNA vaccines we tested,” Saunders said.
Saunders said researchers are looking ahead to future viruses. This vaccine appears to protect against other coronaviruses already present in animals.
“Being able to transmit from an animal to a human could introduce a novel virus that humans haven’t seen before and they don’t have immunity against,” Saunders said.
Some scientists believe COVID-19, SARS and MERS started this way.
On top of this, the vaccine seems to stop the virus from multiplying in the nose and lungs. Both are key places COVID-19 infects and spreads. It’s something Saunders said has been difficult for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to do.
“It focuses your immune response on the Achilles heel of the virus,” Saunders said.
The next step is for human trials. The university has tested only on monkeys so far. They are pursuing funding to start on human clinical trials. Saunders said the vaccine likely won’t be available for the public for at least another year.
“It’s just a testament to the huge team effort that people have put together in order to respond to the pandemic,” Saunders said.
Moderna and Pfizer developing booster shots
Moderna announced in April that it will make a booster shot available to Americans by the fall. They said the third vaccine would likely be needed between six and 12 months after the second dose. As with the flu shot, they said people would likely need an annual re-vaccination.
Pfizer’s CEO said people will “likely” require a third dose within 12 months of being fully vaccinated. The company has not given an indication of when their booster shot may be available.
“Like influenza, this virus is evolving. We have new variants that are circulating so a booster shot can also help take care of the variant problem by giving you new immunity to the strains that are circulating,” Dr. Tony Moody told CBS 17.
Moody is a professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Infectious Diseases and an associate professor in the Department of Immunology at Duke University Medical Center.
Moody said researchers are currently studying whether the next dose will include the same amount of vaccine while also working to tame the side effects many have already experienced.