Scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research have developed a single vaccine that has proven effective against COVID-19 and all of its variants. The Spike Ferritin Nanoparticle COVID-19 vaccine completed animal trials earlier in 2021 with positive results. Phase 1 of SpFN human trials, which evaluated the vaccine's effectiveness against the Omicron and other variants, wrapped up in December with similarly positive results. Walter Reed expects to formally announce the development within just a few weeks.
The scientific achievement is the result of nearly two years of work on the coronavirus. Walter Reed received its first DNA sequencing of COVID-19 in early 2020. Since then, researchers have focused on developing a vaccine that would be effective against both existing and future strains of the virus. To date, such future-proofing has not been seen in the fight against COVID-19. "It's very exciting to get to this point for our entire team and I think for the entire Army as well," said Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, director of Walter Reed’s infectious diseases branch, in an interview with Defense One.
Human trials for SpFN took longer than anticipated because of the recent proliferation of both COVID and its vaccines. The testing needed to be performed on subjects who had neither been previously infected with COVID nor vaccinated against it. Increased vaccination rates and the spread of the Delta and Omicron variants made this difficult.
Following the human trials, Walter Reed researchers plan to evaluate the vaccine's effectiveness in people who have been vaccinated or have had COVID. "We need to evaluate it in the real-world setting and try to understand how does the vaccine perform in much larger numbers of individuals who have already been vaccinated with something else initially…or already been sick," Modjarrad said. He also noted that the vaccine still needs to undergo phase 2 and phase 3 trials.
The development of a single vaccine that would protect people from all strains, including future variants, of COVID could be a game-changer. "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," Modjarrad noted. "Our platform and approach will equip people to be prepared for that."