Universal coronavirus vaccines urgently needed, NIH leaders say

More research is needed to understand the global "coronaviral universe" and use that information to develop vaccines that are broadly protective against coronaviruses, three leaders from the National Institutes of Health wrote in a Dec. 15 op-ed published in The New England Journal of Medicine. 

The article's authors are:

  • David Morens, MD, senior scientific advisor at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases 
  • Jeffrey Taubenberger, MD, PhD, senior investigator of viral pathogenesis and evolution section at NIAID
  • Anthony Fauci, MD, director of NIAID

"We urgently need universal coronavirus vaccines," the physician leaders said, noting that SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — will likely circulate indefinitely, causing periodic outbreaks. Limitations of current COVID-19 vaccines suggest we'll eventually need second-generation vaccines that offer broader protection and more durable immunity against the virus. 

"Meanwhile, an unknown number of animal coronaviruses, of unknown transmissibility and lethality, may well emerge in the foreseeable future," Drs. Morens, Taubenberger and Fauci said.

Collaborative international research efforts involving extensive viral sequencing of various bat species will be required to fully characterize the coronavirus ecosystem, according to the physician leaders. Researchers should also gain insights into the natural history and pathogenesis of coronaviruses by studying those that have become endemic. 

"Our ongoing experience with the current Covid-19 pandemic, together with the ever-present threat of the emergence of other potentially pandemic coronaviruses, necessitates the expeditious development of safe and broadly protective coronavirus vaccines," they concluded. "This is a challenge that we must now fully commit ourselves to addressing."

View the full article here.

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