The US Army is developing a vaccine to fight all variants of COVID-19, including Omicron and Delta — as well as all prior coronaviruses and strains not yet identified.
Scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research expect to announce the one-stop shot in just weeks after nearly two years of research that began with the DNA sequencing of the COVID-19 virus in early 2020, Defense One reported late Tuesday.
Infectious disease specialists at the Department of Defense’s largest biomedical research facility completed animal trials earlier this year with its spike ferritin nanoparticle vaccine, or SpFN, with positive results, according to the report.
Phase 1 of its human trials are now under final review after testing against Omicron and other variants were completed earlier this month – again with promising results, the director of Walter Reed’s infectious disease branch told Defense One.
“It’s very exciting to get to this point for our entire team and I think for the entire Army as well,” Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad told the outlet.
What makes the vaccine unique is its soccer-ball-shaped protein with 24 faces, allowing scientists to attach the spikes of multiple coronavirus variants on different faces of the protein, according to the report.
Human trials took longer than expected since Walter Reed’s lab needed to test it on subjects who hadn’t been vaccinated nor previously infected with the disease that’s killed more than 5.3 million globally as of Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
The rapid spread of both the Delta and Omicron variants impacted the human trials, Modjarrad said. The new vaccine still needs to undergo phase 2 and 3 trials, he said.
“With Omicron, there’s no way really to escape this virus,” Modjarrad flatly told Defense One. “You’re not going to be able to avoid it. So I think pretty soon either the whole world will be vaccinated or have been infected.”
Scientists now need to understand how the vaccine interacts with people who have already been vaccinated or previously had the virus. Walter Reed and an unnamed industry partner are collaborating on the upcoming wider rollout, according to the report.
Almost all of Walter Reed’s 2,500 staffers played some role in the development of the new vaccine, which still needs to be evaluated in a “real-world setting,” Modjarrad said.
“We decided to take a look at the long game rather than just only focusing on the original emergence of SARS, and instead understand that viruses mutate, there will be variants that emerge, future viruses that may emerge in terms of new species,” he told the outlet. “Our platform and approach will equip people to be prepared for that.”
President Joe Biden announced Tuesday the government would provide 500 million free rapid home-testing kits and boost vaccination efforts amid the fast-spreading Omicron variant, which was first identified in South Africa about a month ago.
The Omicron variant spreads even faster than other coronavirus strains and accounted for nearly three-quarters of new infections in the US last week.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease specialist, said the variant was spreading at a “truly unprecedented” rate, with cases in the US doubling about every two days.
“It’s not surprising that just a week or two ago we had only 8 to 10 percent and now we have 73 percent of all the isolates are Omicron,” Fauci said Tuesday. “That is truly unprecedented in the rapidity with which a virus spreads.”
With Post wires