Corona vaccination: virologist gives up hope for miracle weapon against virus

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Virologist Peter Palese thinks a vaccine that offers protection against future Corona mutations is unlikely – regular vaccinations would be needed.

New York – Will there be a vaccine that permanently immunizes people against corona, including future mutations? Virologist Peter Palese thinks that is highly unlikely. Just a year ago, the Austrian-born virologist, who conducts research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York (USA), was optimistic that a kind of universal vaccine could be developed. After all, such a preparation is currently being clinically tested for influenza. The “broccoli form” of the spike protein is crucial here, but is lacking in the coronavirus.

Virologist considers universal vaccine against corona mutations extremely unlikely
The flu virus has so-called spike proteins on its surface, which look a bit like broccoli, reports the “Wirtschaftswoche”. Mutations change their heads, where most antibodies attach, so that the viruses are no longer recognizable to the immune system. For this reason, the vaccination must be refreshed annually. However, the strain of these spike proteins hardly changes. Palese’s idea is to train the antibodies to attach to the strain. The vaccine would also be effective against future mutations.

With the coronavirus, however, it is different – so the principle cannot be transferred so easily. The problem is that its spike proteins “do not have such a broccoli shape” and “no clear demarcation lines between the parts” that mutate continuously and those that hardly change, the virologist explains to the “Wirtschaftswoche”. The world’s leading structural biologists have been searching the coronavirus for the unchanging components for months without success.

Corona vaccination probably necessary on a regular basis

Peter Palese has therefore almost given up his hope of finding a permanently effective corona vaccine: “Such a remedy is definitely not around the corner.” The virologist believes the most feasible approach is to mix several mutations of the corona virus in a multivariant vaccine. If no “miracle weapon” can be developed, people will have to be regularly vaccinated against corona in the future. However, this would not have to be an annual occurrence. The corona virus mutates more slowly than the influenza virus.

According to the “Wirtschaftswoche”, the French biotech company Osivax is specifically investigating parts inside the coronavirus, the so-called nucleocapsid protein, which appears to be relatively stable. That makes it all the more difficult to build a vaccine that can target it there, he said. Because it is located inside, the protein is not accessible to antibodies. Therefore, the idea is to trigger a cellular response from the immune system – an approach that targets T cells in the body. Studies on animals are currently underway.

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