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UW-Madison researchers work to create universal coronavirus vaccine

Covid-19 vaccines
Covid-19 vaccines(waff)
Published: Jan. 18, 2022 at 7:43 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Researchers at the University of Wisconsin- Madison are working to create a universal vaccine that would stop a series of harmful viruses, including the one responsible for COVID-19.

Experts explained that the virus that causes COVID-19 belongs to a larger family of coronaviruses, which tend to make humans and animals sick. These viruses include Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (SARS), both of which have caused epidemics.

The $7 million-project is looking into a vaccine or vaccines that would train someone’s immune system to respond to a broader array of these viruses. If successful, it would also prevent unknown coronaviruses.

UW–Madison School of Veterinary Medicine Professor of Pathobiological Sciences Yoshihiro Kawaoka leads the research study and explained that the universal vaccine would prepare people for the future.

“The pan-coronavirus vaccine may not be as effective as a vaccine that is specific for a particular strain, like SARS-CoV-2,” says Kawaoka. They explained that the the trade-off for reduced effectiveness is increased coverage.

Peter Halfmann, a research associate professor  in the Kawaoka lab at the Influenza Research Institute, said having a pan-coronavirus vaccine in March of 2020 could have served as a tool to mitigate the virus until vaccines specific to COVID-19 were introduced.

Scientists are now working on identifying proteins shared between different viruses in the coronavirus family. Once they identify these, they will test how these portions of proteins affect the immune systems of mice and compare it to human data. The proteins that perform well will then be used to vaccinate mice and hamsters, which researchers pointed out both develop illness similar to humans.

Researchers will also determine how long the vaccine immunity lasts and whether vaccine can prevent transmission between animals.

Kawaoka added that while vaccine candidates they identify now are at least five years away from the clinic, his team will continue to invest the time in investigating these practices.

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