Looking Forward to What 2022 Will Mean for Vaccine History and Science… And the Pandemic

A few days ago, the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development announced the approval of its COVID-19 vaccine in India. The vaccine, Corbevax, is the result of work started when the SARS epidemic struck in the early 2000s. India approved the vaccine for people 18 and older, and the vaccine technology is protein subunit technology like that used in the currently approved hepatitis B vaccines in the United States. Since Texas Children’s Hospital has gifted the vaccine technology to the world, offering it without patent restrictions in an attempt to fill the gap that current vaccines are unable to fill because of technological and patent limitations.

If successful, it is expected that up to 100 million doses of Corbevax can be produced each month. The aim is to vaccinate enough people around the world that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is lessened in terms of overall infections, severe disease and hospitalizations. One additional aim of the vaccination effort is to prevent variants, which appear in under-vaccinated populations as the novel coronavirus is allowed to multiply freely and produce variants.

A fourth COVID-19 vaccine for the United States?

NVX-CoV2373, the vaccine created by Maryland-based manufacturer Novavax, has already gained emergency use approval in India and the European Union. The company has now submitted the paperwork to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use authorization (EUA) in the United States. The vaccine works by adhering viral proteins to an adjuvant (a chemical used to improve immune response). The proteins are made in insect cell cultures using a modified insect virus, and then the proteins are purified so that only the coronavirus spike protein remains in a solution and ready to be added to the adjuvant.

For more information on where other vaccines around the world are in terms of their development or testing, we recommend this COVID-19 vaccine tracker from The New York Times. Of note in that tracker are the ten vaccines (as of January 2, 2022) whose development and production have been abandoned. Some have failed at the clinical trial stage, while others simply ran out of funding.

An Omicron variant booster?

As the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus continues to spread exponentially, the evidence is there that people who have received at least one booster of the COVID-19 vaccine are facing less odds of severe disease, hospitalization and death. Nevertheless, the sheer number of people being infected is translating to overburdened emergency services, hospitals and urgent care centers. In Maryland, for example, local public health and healthcare administrators urged the public to please stay home if their symptoms are not critical, to get vaccinated or boosted, and to be mindful of their health conditions as the local hospital system and emergency medical services are overwhelmed.

In response to the Omicron wave, both manufacturers of the mRNA vaccines have stated that they can — and probably will — shift their formulation to the Omicron strain’s mRNA code for the spike protein. Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine could be ready by March. Moderna did not give an expected date for the vaccine to be ready, but they are planning a clinical trial early in 2022. Currently, there is no expected timetable for the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine.

An endemic disease and no longer a pandemic?

One of the hopes from the public and experts is that the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is that the virus becomes endemic, no longer causing surges in infections and the associated surges in hospitalizations and deaths. However, that moment will not arrive so long as new variants arise and cause more waves, like Omicron is doing right now. And that will continue to happen as long as a substantial proportion of the world population is not vaccinated or otherwise immune.

Author: René F. Najera, DrPH

I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, an online project by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. All opinions expressed on these blog posts are not necessarily those of the College or any of my employers. Check out my professional profile on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/renenajera Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen