Can a vaccine protect against all Covid variants?

A vaccine designed to fight off all the current and future Covid variants has gotten through a small early trial and is ready to test on a larger group. 

Instead of targeting only Covid’s spike protein, which has been mutating madly, it backs that attack up with–um, yeah, something else. 

You want details? Fine: It drives “broad CD8+ T cell immunity.” I drive a little Toyota Aygo and the mileage isn’t bad but I bet the vaccine’s is better, because it also “enables inclusion of a wide array of highly conserved viral epitopes.”

Never mind. I didn’t understand it either. That’s why it’s in quotation marks: to keep it safe from sticky little editorial hands.

The vaccine’s designed as a booster shot, and it works at a much lower dose than the current ones. 

Irrelevant photo: A neighbor’s camellias just came into bloom. In January.

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The U.S. Army is also working on a vaccine that could be effective against all Covid variants, although I don’t think it’s progressed as far. A press release quotes Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad as saying, “Our strategy has been to develop a ‘pan-coronavirus’ vaccine technology that could potentially offer safe, effective and durable protection against multiple coronavirus strains and species.”

Notice that they’re talking about not just Covid but coronaviruses in general. And also that they’re talking about long-lasting protection, so we wouldn’t need repeated boosters. But the key word in the quote is potentially. Don’t bet a large sum of money on this one yet, or even on the first one I mentioned, but do allow yourself a nice jolt of hope. And maybe a little ice cream to wash it down. 

This may or may not be the universal vaccine that gets to the finish line, either first or at all, but like the one above, it’s a reminder: These aren’t the only efforts to find a vaccine that puts us ahead of a mutating virus instead of always running to keep up. The article I stole this from is oriented to the U.S. and mentions that major figures in the National Institutes of Health are behind the effort, indicating the government’s willingness to fork out some cash.

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Meanwhile, researchers from the University of Hong Kong are working on a vaccine that will–assuming everything works out as planned (and as the saying goes, the crick don’t rise)–keep Covid from setting up a home in people’s noses. 

That would close a gap left by the current vaccines: They’re good at reducing serious disease, hospitalization, and death, but they’re not as good at keeping Covid from spreading. This one, if it works out, could stop the spread, because in spite of what people who wear masks under their noses think, the nose has an active role in both catching and spreading Covid.

The vaccine’s at the human-trials stage of development.

You remember humans. A two-legged, furless species, and a problematic one.  

Professor Chen Zhiwei, who co-leads the research, said, “The biggest challenge for our COVID-19 vaccine development is that we do not have a vaccine manufacturing plant in Hong Kong, which has delayed the translation of scientific discovery into clinical use.”

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This next item isn’t about a vaccine, but since we’re talking about Covid and noses, let’s slip it in here: Researchers in Australia are playing with a nasal spray that they hope will stop the progression and spread of Covid. It involves heparin, which is used widely to treat and prevent blood clots and which can be kept at room temperature.

I never knew how friendly the phrase room temperature would come to sound.

Professor Gary Anderson explained how it works: “Covid-19 first infects cells in the nose, and to do that the virus must bind to Heparan Sulfate on the surface of nasal cells lining the nose.

“Heparin—the active ingredient in our spray—has a structure that is very similar to Heparan Sulfate, so it behaves as a ‘decoy’ and can rapidly wrap around the virus’s spike protein like a python, preventing it from infecting you or spreading the virus to others.

“Importantly, this nasal spray should prove effective for all Coivd-19 variants because the Heparan Sulfate binding site is essential for infection, and is likely to be preserved in new variants. Heparin binds avidly to the Omicron variant currently sweeping through the country.”

They expect to start clinical trials in the first quarter of this year. If it works out and promises to bring back what we so nostalgically call normality, some troll farm will unearth that python image and convince 24% of the population that they’d be spraying python eggs up their noses.

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In 2020, Amazon’s charitable arm, Amazon Smile, donated more than $40,000 to anti-vax groups. That’s a small proportion of Amazon Smile’s donations, but it can be a hefty amount for a small organization. 

Smile, everyone. The python eggs you ordered will be at your door tomorrow.

 

Antiviral pills

Meanwhile, Covid cases are still climbing, and even though the Omicron variant seems to be less fierce than the earlier ones, a hell of a lot of people are hospitalized with it. 

But “hospitalized with it” doesn’t mean that Omicron, or any other Covid variant, drove all of them to the hospital. Some of them were hospitalized for other reasons but also turned out to have Covid. So the good news is that not everyone included in that statistic is so sick from Covid that it’s driving them to the hospital, but the bad news is that since they have it coincidentally, the hospital has to turn itself inside out to keep them from spreading the damn thing. 

Okay, I admit, “a hell of a lot of people” isn’t, strictly speaking, a statistic.

But never mind that. How helpful are the new antiviral pills?

It turns out that they’re not a magic wand. And they won’t be given to everyone. They’re for people with mild to moderate Covid who have risk factors of one sort or another–people with chronic illnesses, compromised immune systems, a history of having celebrated too many birthdays. That sort of person. The sort of people Covid’s most likely to hospitalize. 

And the pills come with a list of thou-shalt-nots. One of them isn’t okay for kids under twelve or pregnant women. (It hasn’t been tested on pregnant men yet.) The other isn’t safe for people with kidney or liver problems. Both interact with other medications, which will rule them out for some people. 

According to William Schaffner of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, “It’s not like going to a machine, putting in a quarter and getting out a candy bar. It’s a serious prescription of a medication, and the health care professionals need to do some screening and education.” 

That’s me you hear out in the hallway, pounding on the vending machine and yelling that I want my candy bar. You know how much good it does.

The pills have other limitations: If they’re going to work, they have to be taken within five days of the first symptoms, so people in high-risk categories will need to get tested quickly. The Covid symptoms that the article lists (again, this is a U.S.-oriented article) are: fever or chills, cough, headache, difficulty breathing, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, fatigue, runny nose, and muscle or body aches.

But Britain, in its wisdom, is still listing only the original Covid symptoms: a high temperature, a new continuous cough, or changes in your sense of smell or taste. In other words, they’re not listing the new variant’s symptoms, and last time I looked if you’re  in Britain and want to book a PCR test–the slower, more accurate Covid test–you have to swear that you have one of the three symptoms or have been exposed to someone who et cetera. So if you have the newer symptoms and want to do the responsible thing and get tested, your best course of action is to lie through your teeth and claim the old ones.

You’re dealing with an algorithm. There’s no point in arguing. 

 

Shortages

So we’ve established that you need to get tested as soon as possible, right? Well, guess what both Britain and the U.S. are short of: No, it’s not irony, it’s Covid tests

They’re not the only countries where they’re running short, but I can barely keep up with two. Let’s focus on Britain, since that’s where I live.

In Britain, pharmacies–those things that Americans call drug stores–sent out a warning in December that they were going to run short of home test kits. Guess what the government did: zilch. It didn’t even answer the letter. So pharmacies are running out, and you can’t necessarily get home tests from the government website either. 

But the Department of Good Planning did offer to shorten the quarantine period for anyone with two negative tests on day whatever and whatever plus something, and it also urged people to test themselves before going to a New Year’s Eve Germ Exchange, thus increasing the demand for tests. And now that the schools have reopened, students are urged to test themselves more often. Somehow.

And to complete the picture, the country’s lone distributor of the home test kits received 2.5 million of the things, then shut for Christmas. It reopened on the 29th. 

Pharmacies can order 55 packs per day. Each pack has seven tests. 

It reminds me of an old rhyme: As I was going to St. Ives, I met a man with seven wives. Each wife had seven bags, each bag had seven cats, each cat had seven kits. How many were going to St. Ives?

One. No doubt someone high up in the government who thought it was a good time for a vacation.

In the meantime, health care workers haven’t been able to get tests, many hospitals are short-staffed, and the government’s talking about building temporary hospitals in parking lots to deal with any overflow.

If they’re talking about how to staff them, the word hasn’t filtered down to me.

It may be a coincidence that international travelers no longer have to isolate or take a PCR test after–or before–they arrive in Britain. (Those are the slower, more expensive tests. They’re in short supply too.) Instead, they can take the cheaper, faster test no later than two days after they arrive.

If they can find one. 

To quote PoliticsHome, on January 4, “the UK recorded 218,724 new Covid cases, the first time a daily rate has exceeded 200,000. The Omicron variant now accounts for the majority of infections and it is no longer believed that the travel restrictions will curb the spread of infection.” 

I believe that translates to, “This thing’s so far out of control that, what the fuck, we give up.”

The Foreign Office said it would get back to me about joining the diplomatic corps.

 

So how serious is Covid?

In 2020, Covid decreased in life expectancy in 29 countries. For a number of Western European countries, it was the biggest decrease since World War II. 

Why 29 countries? They had statistics available in a form the study could use, so the study covers the U.S., Chile, and most of Europe. That leaves out a fair number of countries that had severe outbreaks, so can we agree that the study underestimates the decrease?

Thanks. I thought we could.

The largest loss was among males in the U.S., whose life expectancy at birth decreased 2.2 years compared to 2019 levels.

One of the study’s lead authors, Dr. José Manuel Aburto,, said, “To contextualize, it took on average 5.6 years for these countries to achieve a one-year increase in life expectancy recently: progress wiped out over the course of 2020 by Covid-19.”

It might be tempting to think, hell, if we’re talking about one year at the end of a long life, how much difference does it make? But it takes a lot of deaths to lower the average–deaths of real people, with real lives. With real friends and real families, who feel real grief at their loss and whose lives may well have been torn apart by it, emotionally, economically, or both. 

And those deaths don’t necessarily come only to the elderly. 

That’s worth thinking about the next time someone implies that learning to live with Covid means we should all tear off our masks, unvaccinate ourselves, enter into germ exchanges, and go out and play in traffic.

62 thoughts on “Can a vaccine protect against all Covid variants?

    • At this point, in Britain, there really isn’t any point in limiting entry. The variant’s here and spreading happily. And if there’s a new variant and the government follows its pattern, it’ll wait until it’s too late to limit entry.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. What you say here is something I think some folks don’t seem to understand, or have empathy for: … “it takes a lot of deaths to lower the average – deaths of real people, with real lives. With real friends and real families, who feel real grief at their loss and whose lives may well have been torn apart by it, emotionally, economically, or both.” … Juggling finances with my siblings to try to bury our poor mother when she died with covid, was… I don’t know how to finish that sentence.
    Many people have suffered so much more worse than us… Our local obituaries, tell of little children who have lost a mother, or father, or both to covid. Those babies will grow up missing a parent.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Our Covid Christmas wasn’t merry or bright, but turned into more of a Thanksgiving we were still able to give thanks.
    But hey, we were all around to remember the non-event January 6th. of 2021 yesterday. There’s that bit of merry…or not.
    Stay safe, y’all.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Being around to give thanks is a lot to give thanks for. I’d be even more grateful if we didn’t have Jan. 6 to remember, but–oh, hell, I’d love to follow that up with something hopeful but I’m having trouble with that. You stay well too.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you for making it possible to chuckle (8 times!) about a sad chin-diaper world :)

    Back when I had a history of few birthdays celebrated (paraphrased), I heard a quote along the lines of “We live in a Newtonian world, of Einsteinian physics, ruled by Frankenstein logic.” Then I thought it was hilarious. Now I’m wondering if it hits too close to home or just insulting to berry-loving Frankenstein…

    Thank you, again, for the reality-based chuckles!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. As a person signed up for Amazon Smile, I feel compelled to point out that you get to choose where the percentage of your purchases go, from a list of organizations registered there . (How you get registered I do not know. I donate to a local no-kill shelter called One of a Kind Pets, from whence came my late black cat Oscar) So Amazon is only following the donations as designated by the Amazon customers. That does not mean I am happy about where some people choose to send their donations. As Ohio;s blunderful representative Jockstrap Gym Jordan has said “NO vaccines should be mandated.” Starting with him,in that case, many Ohioans hope for a return of smallpox.

    As for a vaccine that covers all viruses…well, we need different flu vaccines every year, don’t we ? And they don’t cover everything. So you are right not to get your hopes up.

    What Rose says emphasizes why statistics don’t tell the whole story.

    Liked by 2 people

    • What a universal coronavirus vaccine might do is include colds. Wanna bet antivaxxers line up for that one, since they agree that colds exist? The idea, at least as far as I understand it, is for these vaccines to target something in the virus that doesn’t mutate, so not the spike proteins–and something that’s common to all the coronaviruses. I’m not placing any bets, but I do blow gently on a spark of hope from time to time.

      And I agree, absolutely, about Rose’s comment. It’s something we forget at our peril.

      Like

  5. “Viral epitopes” That’s a good one. I will ask MD/Infectologist Daughter #1.
    “We give up”. That ain’t new. politicos have done that all the time.
    (Do broadcast it when you join the Foreign Office. If you need a secretary I’ll be glad to help)
    Shortages? Tests are running out on the continent too. But don’t worry “All is under control”. Chemiotherapies too. Worldwide. Said daughter #1 works at the national cancer institute.
    The missus needs to buy a new car. (ten year-old. The car, not the missus) The agency told her they were out of cars. Not a one. No sale.
    “Problematic species” you said? 🤣
    (I don’t think you’ll make it to the Foreign Office)🏴‍☠️
    Stay safe, you and yours.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Nope. I just heard from a friend who got infected in Serbia after a month of getting a booster, along with her husband, kids, sister, her family, mom, inlaws….all properly vaccinated. Luckily no one ended up in the hospital, so, as said many times before, that’s what the vaccine protects us from. So eventually, we’ll all get the virus sooner or later. Better later when it grows old and weak.

    Some of the new symptoms include blue lips and fingers. Go figure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We are, although you wouldn’t know it from the way richer countries are hoarding vaccine. I just read that a fair amount that the UK bought for boosters is about to expire and will have to be thrown out.

      Like

              • Kendrick is not in field when discussing masks, so his understanding of mask dynamics is lacking. His supporting example is a tad weak. However, his larger point is very much on point in today’s environment of panic and confusion.

                I read that study and it has major errors. I doubt that the authors took their publication seriously and possibly were paid to publish it. I am in field and know of no physicist who thinks that masks will do much except for N95–and we have no idea how long they should be worn before they need to be changed out.

                The mask studies which I have seen focus on droplets and miss the physics that masks will cause droplets between 5 and 100 microns to evaporate in microseconds because masks will wick the droplets, increasing their surface area, which will cause very quick evaporation.

                N95 masks rely on a combination of electrostatically-charge fibers and layering to temporarily trap particles within their layers because of a physics phenomenon called Brownian Motion. However, both of those strategies will lose effectiveness over time as the mask becomes saturated with dust particles, including viruses. There is a time/effectiveness curve for masks that needs to be found experimentally so that people can make a guess as to how long N95 masks can be worn before needing to be changed out.

                Liked by 1 person

              • That study isn’t referenced by any other masking study done by physicists. Kind of a tell. There is one weak study by physicists that reference it.

                The key tell is that none of these studies consider the wicking effect of masks–greatly increasing the surface area of liquids markedly increases evaporation rates. I’m sure these guys know that, but they need money and they have to provide a paper for the money. If they considered wicking, funding would be withdrawn.

                Liked by 1 person

              • It’s one study of many and the one I happen to have at hand. I won’t try to argue physics with you. I’m a retired editor with no science background. What I will say is that many studies find masks useful, although as you say, in varying degrees. The N95 and KN95 most so, the others moving down the scale but still better than running maskless.

                Like

              • The N95 is not to be worn without training. Certainly not by the untrained general public or even untrained medical professionals.

                Almost all the mask studies are by people who aren’t physicists and are often incompetent to design a proper test or evaluate the results. Some are MDs, who are out of field and incompetent to evaluate mask dynamics. The fact that those people don’t even consider masks wicking droplets should be a major clue to this fact.

                You can have 100 worthless studies and they still mean nothing. Numbers of studies means nothing to science. One good study outweighs 100 worthless studies.

                Like

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