The vaccine is the result of two years of work (a short period for vaccine development), and it is claimed to work against all strains of SARS-origin viruses — including strains and viruses that haven’t even emerged yet.
In an exclusive interview with Defense One, Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, director of Walter Reed’s infectious diseases branch, discussed the army’s Spike Ferritin Nanoparticle COVID-19 vaccine, or SpFN. The vaccine, Modjarrad says, completed animal trials and Phase 1 human trials. Results will soon be published in a peer-reviewed journal.
In a statement, officials stopped short of making any clear statements, but they mentioned that so far, everything seems to be going as planned. Although the vaccine hasn’t been tested specifically against the Omicron variant (which is capable of evading some of the immunity provided by current vaccines), it should work against all coronaviruses variants, not just SARS-CoV-2.
“We want to wait for those clinical data to be able to kind of make the full public announcements, but so far everything has been moving along exactly as we had hoped,” Modjarrad said.
The vaccine trials took a bit longer than expected because the researchers found it hard to gather subjects who had been neither vaccinated against nor infected with COVID-19. In fact, Modjarrad says, because Omicron is so contagious, it’s only a matter of time before everyone gets either vaccinated or infected. But the pan-coronavirus vaccine can help not just against Omicron — but against strains that haven’t even evolved yet, and potentially against future coronavirus pandemics as well.
With peer-reviewed results set to be published soon, the next step is for Walter Reed researchers to test the vaccine on a large, real-world population — Phase II and Phase III trials. In order to do this, researchers are working with a yet-unnamed industrial partner.
This is not the first pan-coronavirus vaccine in development. Several other such vaccines are in development. In fact, such vaccines were already being researched in the first SARS outbreak some 20 years ago — but funding was cut short for these projects, which is very unfortunate given what has happened with the current pandemic. Hopefully, such projects will continue to be funded and supported even if (or when) the current pandemic subsides.
Whether or not the army vaccine (or others of this type) will be successful remains to be seen, but their success may be decisive in how we deal with future coronaviruses pandemics. Whether we like it or not, this is probably not the last time we’ll be hearing from this type of virus.