July 6, 2021

Covid-19 roundup: How close are we to a universal coronavirus vaccine?

Daily Briefing

    CureVac's coronavirus vaccine shows only a 48% efficacy rate in a clinical trial, Moderna announces evidence suggesting its vaccine "should remain protective against newly detected variants," and more in this week's roundup of Covid-19 news.

    • CureVac on Wednesday released mid-stage trial data indicating its coronavirus vaccine is only 48% effective against "'any severity'" of Covid-19, according to the Boston Business Journal. In contrast, both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna's vaccines were 94% effective in their trials, while Johnson & Johnson's vaccine was 66% effective—although those rates were measured in slightly different ways and at periods of the epidemic when different coronavirus variants were more prominent. However, CureVac said its vaccine was more effective in people 18 to 60 years old, offering 100% protection from hospitalization and death and 77% protection against moderate and severe illness. The company is currently discussing the study data with the European Medicines Agency, reports the Washington Post. CureVac currently has no plans to seek emergency authorization for its vaccine in the United States. (Cooper, Wall Street Journal, 6/30; Walrath, Boston Business Journal, 6/30; Johnson, Washington Post, 6/30)
    • HHS officials announced in late June that the United States would stop distribution of bamlanivimab and etesevimab—two of Eli Lilly's monoclonal antibody treatments for Covid-19—after data showed that they are not effective against coronavirus variants. According to the Wall Street Journal, administrations said analyses found the two treatments were not effective against the beta variant, which was first identified in South Africa, or the gamma variant, which was first identified in Brazil. FDA—which originally authorized the two treatments to be used in combination to treat high-risk Covid-19 patients—now recommends providers use a combination of casirivimab and imdevimab or sotrovimab for treatment instead, as they are still effective against the beta and gamma variants. (Walker, MedPage Today, 6/28; Cooper, Wall Street Journal, 6/25)
    • Researchers from the University of North Carolina (UNC), Duke University, and the University of Pennsylvania are working to develop a new mRNA vaccine that they hope will protect not only against Covid-19 but a variety of coronaviruses—including the ones that led to the 2003 SARS and 2012 MERS outbreaks. David Martinez, a postdoctoral researcher from UNC, said their vaccine "take[s] advantage of the fact that the spike protein of the Covid-19 virus and its cousins are really modular," which means "you could just take out a piece and put another one from a closely related virus." As a result, researchers were able to combine pieces of several viruses to create a single spike protein, which they hope will expand the type of immune protection the vaccine offers. Martinez said that this research is "especially important" because coronaviruses have shown they can spread into pandemics, and a generalized vaccine could be used at the site of future outbreaks. "I don't think anyone can conclusively say when the next big one is going to be," Martinez said, "but the fact that this has happened twice now in the last two decades, that's something we should be paying attention to." (Waraich, Triangle Business Journal, 6/28)
    • CDC and WhatsApp have partnered to create a chatbot to provide information about Covid-19 vaccines to Spanish-speaking users. In the United States, Hispanic Americans are the second-least vaccinated group after Black Americans, according to CDC data. Sonia Sroka—head of multicultural communications at Facebook, which owns WhatsApp—told Axios Latino that this CDC partnership is an expansion of a campaign started by the World Health Organization and Latin American countries, including Argentina and Mexico. The goal of the Spanish-language WhatsApp chatbot is to combat misinformation and increase trust among the Latino community.The chatbot, which is called "Mi Chat Sobre Vacunas COVID," offers information on local vaccination sites, available transportation methods, and frequently asked questions. (Chen, Axios, 6/21; Franco, Axios, 6/26)
    • Moderna announced evidence on June 29 that suggests that antibodies stimulated by its vaccine are effective against several coronavirus variants, including the highly contagious delta variant, according to preprint findings., Moderna researchers examined blood samples from eight fully vaccinated people for antibodies against different variants and found vaccine "produced neutralizing titers against all variants tested." However, the researchers found that the antibodies were less effective against the variants than the original virus. Stéphane Bancel, Moderna's CEO, said in a statement, "[This] new data [is] encouraging and reinforce[s] our belief that the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine should remain protective against newly detected variants." (Cunningham, Washington Post, 6/30; Langreth, Bloomberg, 6/29; Wamsley, NPR, 6/30)

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