NIH scientists urge pursuit of universal coronavirus vaccine


Media Advisory

Thursday, December 16, 2021

What

A growing body of scientific evidence, considered together with ecological reality, strongly suggest that novel coronaviruses will continue to infect bats and other animal reservoirs and potentially emerge to pose a pandemic threat to humans. To counter future coronavirus outbreaks, the global scientific and medical research community should focus a major effort now on three goals: characterize the range of coronavirus genetic diversity in multiple animal species; better understand coronavirus disease pathogenesis in laboratory animal models and people; and apply this knowledge to the development of long-lasting, broadly protective coronavirus vaccines. So argue physician-scientists Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., Jeffery K. Taubenberger, M.D., Ph.D., and David M. Morens, M.D., of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, in a new commentary in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The authors call for an international collaborative effort to extensively sample coronaviruses from bats as well as wild and farmed animals to help understand the full “universe” of existing and emerging coronaviruses. Such studies could, they say, provide early warning about coronaviruses poised to cause outbreaks in humans. They write that carefully controlled human challenge trials, in which volunteers are exposed to coronaviruses, could yield a fuller understanding of coronavirus disease processes and inform vaccine design.  

Despite the availability of safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines, it remains unknown whether and how permanent immunity can be achieved, the NIAID authors note. They say SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, will probably continue to circulate indefinitely in periodic outbreaks, and animal coronaviruses of unknown transmissibility and lethality may emerge at any time. Therefore, we must greatly accelerate our efforts in coronavirus vaccinology, they write. The authors outline the features of an ideal universal coronavirus vaccine that would provide durable protection from most or all coronaviruses for individuals of all ages and communities at large. To achieve this goal, fundamental questions about the nature of coronavirus protective immunity must be addressed, including what vaccine approaches best elicit rapid responses (antibodies, for example) and lasting immune “memory” responses that could defend against newly emergent coronaviruses.

The still-raging COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the ever-present threat from new coronaviruses, necessitates the expeditious development of safe and broadly protective coronavirus vaccines. This is a challenge that we must now fully commit ourselves to addressing, the authors conclude.

Article

DM Morens, et al. Universal coronavirus vaccines—an urgent need. The New England Journal of Medicine. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp2118468 (2021).

Who

NIAID Director Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Dr. Jeffery K. Taubenberger, Laboratory of Infectious Diseases, NIAID, and Dr. David M. Morens, M.D., Senior Advisor to the Director, NIAID, are available to discuss their commentary.

NIAID conducts and supports research—at NIH, throughout the United States, and worldwide—to study the causes of infectious and immune-mediated diseases, and to develop better means of preventing, diagnosing and treating these illnesses. News releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID website. 

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

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