Biden, the fight against variants and the search for the universal vaccine

The risks of the anti Covid winter campaign. White House virologist Fauci is focusing (for now) on boosters and the development of a multipurpose serum

On July 4, Joe Biden invited Americans to celebrate independence from Covid as well as that of the United States. Today I will speak to the nation in a very different climate. From the right, then, he is accused of lack of timeliness, of not having a real anti Covid strategy and a clumsy interview by Kamala Harris at the Los Angeles Times suggests that in the White House not everything goes smoothly between politicians and scientists. The vice president says the government was taken aback by both the intensity of the Delta variant and the Omicron and appears to be placing the blame on the experts. Biden, who pays dearly for the undervaluation of six months ago, will continue to rely on Anthony Fauci as it did from the start, but the problem now how to deal with the new emergency (in January in the US there are fears of one million infections a day) and what hopes to give to an exhausted people. His winter plan will extend precautions and pressures on the unvaccinated. But people also want to see the end of the tunnel. And for the critics the government is not doing enough: they would like another massive effort like the Warp speed plan of 10 billion dollars that during the Trump presidency favored the development of the revolutionary Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines.

A new generation of universal vaccines is being worked on, but it will take years. And Fauci fears that emphasizing now the next versions of nRNAs will discourage the use of current vaccines that do not block infections but seem to make the disease almost always benign.

Various groups of researchers in the United States and other parts of the world are working on the development of a pan-coronavirus vaccine, that is, a polyvalent vaccine capable of hitting the virus regardless of the variant with which it occurs. First laboratory tests carried out in Singapore starting from subjects who in 2003 were exposed to the first SARS epidemic seem to demonstrate the viability of this path. Duke University is working on a project in this field together with scientists from the University of Singapore, but several other attempts are also underway: from those of an Oslo foundation that finances MixVax Ltd, a promising Israeli start-up, to Walter Reed Army Institute, the medical center for US Army veterans. This institute, with the help of public subsidies already allocated, has started the first phase of testing a multiple vaccine. Corey Casper, CEO of the Infectuos Diseases Research Institute in Seattle, is beating another way, based on a different way of stimulating the immune system, but always with the aim of arriving at a universal vaccine.

According to infectious disease specialist Bruce Gellin, now head of the Rockefeller Foundation health area, all of this is not enough. We need to be more determined and reverse the current approach: seeking the Holy Grail of the universal vaccine means moving ahead of viruses. Otherwise, with the logic of boosters we will always have to chase. And Eric Topol, another famous scientist, in asking for another Warp Speed ​​operation, argues that up to now the government has not been very determined: but that of the universal vaccine is a complex challenge that, apart from the stratospheric costs, will take years to overcome. Some of these researchers have already created prototypes of their vaccines but they are so new that they require lengthy experimentation on animals before moving on to human testing.

In the meantime, the new sera from Pfizer and Moderna should arrive, adapted to the Delta and Omicron variants. But little is said about it and here too the waiting times are quite long, until the beginning of next summer.

In all of this, how does the virologist of the White House
Anthony Fauci? he is the main target of attacks by those who argue that the government is too slow. In fact, even in a recent hearing before Congress, the infectious disease specialist showed that he was betting on the most ambitious bet: that of the universal vaccine. On the other hand, he would not have pressed the accelerator on the new versions of the mRNA vaccines calibrated on the Delta and Omicron variants because, as mentioned, their development requires more work, a lot of time (and also other huge capitals), for the experiments on thousands of individuals. . Fauci’s fear that the launch of a Warp Speed ​​2, in addition to entailing colossal costs, could create disaffection among citizens for current vaccines that do not totally protect against infections, but limit the severity of the disease.

Fauci has carefully studied the results obtained in Israel, the first country to have immunized almost the entire population with the Pfizer booster. The first data collected on Omicron’s protection against serious diseases are very positive and this explains the White House’s expectation despite the increase in infections. But a game that is played on a tightrope. In a country with nerves on the edge of the skin. If, as the encouraging research from Hong Kong also seems to indicate, will be confirmed an essentially benign nature of Omicron and the pressure on hospitals will be manageable, it will be possible to continue on the path followed so far. Otherwise we must accelerate with clinical trials of the new vaccines. And it seems that the Moderna scientists have already found the right combination for a trivalent vaccine Covid-Sars, Delta, Omicron.