The COVID-19 pandemic that started in 2019 was the third outbreak due to a type of Coronavirus in the last 20 years, and it left immense social, personal, and financial devastation in its wake. It also throws up the question, 'are we prepared to tackle another COVID pandemic in the future?'
The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota released the Coronavirus Vaccines Research and Development (R&D) Roadmap (CVR) on 21 February, with a global strategy to ensure COVID vaccines, one of our most effective tools against the virus, continue to protect against severe illness and deaths.
Here's a quick run down of what the report says.
What they’re saying: Some of the damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic was mitigated by the vaccines that were developed during the ‘pandemic years’.
However, according to the report, the limited durability and immunologic protection of currently available COVID-19 vaccines is indicative of the pressing need for a new, proactive approach to developing coronavirus vaccines that provide stronger and longer-lasting protection against both circulating and future SARS-CoV-2 variants and other coronaviruses that have not yet emerged.
Rewind: The emergence of SARS-CoV-2 in 2019 was preceded by two epidemics caused by different coronaviruses
In 2003 - by SARS-CoV.
In 2012, - by the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or MERS-CoV.
These previous outbreaks were fatal (about one-third of MERS-CoV, infections result in death), but locally contained as the viruses weren’t as transmissible. SARS-CoV2 on the other hand actually caused lesser deaths, except it was far more infectious.
Why should you care? What this means is that another pandemic caused by SARS-CoV, potentially worse than the previous ones isn’t entirely far-fetched.
Experts warn that if adequate risk-mitigating action is not taken, the threat of a new coronavirus in the future that is both highly transmissible and highly lethal is very real.
Moreover, it’s possible that more transmissible and virulent variants of SARSCoV-2 may not be deterred by the protection provided by current vaccines against severe disease and death.
The way forward: “The COVID-19 pandemic taught us the hard lesson that we must be better prepared,” said Michael T. Osterholm, CIDRAP director, University of Minnesota.
“It is critical that we start now to develop vaccines that are future-ready for coronaviruses circulating in animals now, that might infect humans and cause pandemics in the future as SARS-CoV-3 and beyond,” adds Linfa Wang, PhD, executive director of the Programme for Research in Epidemic Preparedness and Response (PREPARE), Singapore.
The CVR report puts forth a structured plan with tools to do just that.
The goal of the report is to put forth a plan to develop vaccines that,
Reduce severe illness and death (and potentially prevent infection) due to current and future human coronaviruses.
Are suitable for use in, and accessible to all regions of the world, including remote areas and low, and middle-income countries.
The Plan: Some approaches that the report suggests are,
Vaccines to protect against variants of SARS-CoV-2.
Focus on vaccines capable of protecting against multiple types of coronaviruses, including those likely to spill over from animals to humans in the future.
Build on the science and networks forged during the COVID-19 pandemic to develop improved, next-generation coronavirus vaccines.
The report was funded by The Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It involved the collaboration of 50 scientific experts from around the world.