The White House hosted a forum on the next generation of COVID-19 vaccines as pharmaceutical companies plan on releasing updated shots this fall.
The forum was held on Tuesday as COVID-19 cases grow in the US. Officials have acknowledged that the original COVID-19 vaccines that are still being administered have lost some of their effectiveness at stopping mild and moderate cases. Health officials, however, say the vaccines continue to offer some protection against severe and life-threatening cases.
Citing data from the Commonwealth Fund, Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief science adviser, said vaccines prevented over 2 million deaths and 17 million hospitalizations and saved Americans $900 billion in health care costs through the end of March.
“That’s the good news; the sobering news is why we’re here today because our job is not done,” Fauci said. “Innovate approaches are needed to induce broad and durable protection against coronaviruses, known and unknown.”
One challenge is that as soon as a vaccine is developed, the virus begins the mutate, reducing the effectiveness of the shot, officials said. Dr. Ashish Jha, leader of the Biden administration’s COVID-19 response, said vaccines can be updated, but that alone offers a set of logistical challenges.
“Predicting where the virus is going to go is hard, but so is asking people to get vaccinated two or three times a year. That is a huge challenge,” Jha said. “So we need vaccines that are durable. We need vaccines that offer broader and offer longer lasting protection. We need vaccines that offer protection against multiple variants. Ultimately, we need vaccines that can protect us no matter what mother nature throws at us.”
Fauci said one important facet is developing a pan coronavirus vaccine. While vaccines this fall are expected to target the omicron variant, Fauci is hopeful that future vaccines offer broader and more robust protection.
“If you look at coronaviruses in general, that is very aspirational,” Fauci said about the development of a vaccine against all forms of coronaviruses.
But Fauci noted several organizations that are in the clinical trial phase to review pan coronavirus vaccines. The federal government has awarded over $42 million in grants to study the development of such vaccines.
Jha said, “The bar for a new generation of vaccines is high.”
Fauci also pointed toward the development of mucosal vaccines, which he said could give patients protection sooner than through a shot. Mucosal vaccines are given to patients through a nasal spray.