An editorial in the journal Science calls for a global effort to develop a universal coronavirus vaccine, according to a recent report by the Physicists Organization Network.
Wayne Koff, head of the Human Vaccine Program, and Seth Berkley, head of the Global Vaccine Alliance, said the Covid-19 epidemic is far from over, but that multiple vaccines are now available and the number of people getting vaccinated is increasing.
Still, “more virulent and deadly coronaviruses may be on the prowl for humans, so a universal coronavirus vaccine is needed.”
Novel coronavirus belongs to a large family of coronaviruses that affect mammals, including humans.
So far, there are 7 kinds of coronaviruses confirmed by the medical community that can infect humans, among which there are 4 kinds of common human coronaviruses that are not life-threatening to humans, and about 30% of people with mild infection of the upper respiratory tract are caused by common coronaviruses.
The remaining three are high-risk human coronaviruses, which can spread widely and cause epidemics.
Novel coronavirus is one of them, along with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome virus (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus (MERS).
Dr. Koff and Dr. Berkley say Novel coronavirus has the potential to mutate in ways that would reduce the effectiveness of current vaccines or even render them ineffective.
In addition, other coronaviruses are increasingly likely to spread between species.
“Modern farming practices, the evolution of viruses and human destruction of the natural environment mean that people are at increasing risk of encountering previously isolated populations of animals that may harbour new strains of pandemic potential,” they explained.
Increased trends in population migration, population growth, urbanization, cross-border travel and climate change make it easier for a virus outbreak to escalate into a pandemic.”
On the other hand, advances in biomedical research, computers and engineering science have ushered in a new era in vaccine development.
High-powered supercomputers can help identify new “antigens” — key viral proteins that elicit immune responses, the “secret weapon” of vaccines.
Scientists can also use the animal coronavirus gene sequence database to model the evolution of coronaviruses and study how the immune system declines with age to improve vaccine design.
“This requires a global effort,” they stressed. “We need a roadmap to map out core scientific issues, as well as a framework for funding and sharing information, data and resources.
It will not be easy, but if we wait for the next coronavirus to emerge, it may be too late.”