Yet another new mRNA vaccine for COVID? Really?

Alain Jocard, Pool via AP

Public participation in the latest versions of the COVID boosters has been inarguably abysmal. (As of last month, less than 4% of adult Americans had received one of the updated boosters, according to NBC News.) But that doesn’t seem to be slowing down the pharmaceutical industry or dampening its appetite for even more experimentation. Inside the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, researchers have excitedly announced that they’ve figured out yet another way to engineer the vaccines. The news was announced in a recent scientific journal article, leading the Daily Beast to proclaim that this development may finally “bring COVID to its knees.” Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…

With new COVID variants and subvariants evolving faster and faster, each chipping away at the effectiveness of the leading vaccines, the hunt is on for a new kind of vaccine—one that works equally well on current and future forms of the novel-coronavirus.

Now researchers at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland think they’ve found a new approach to vaccine-design that could lead them to a long-lasting jab. As a bonus, it also might work on other coronaviruses, not just the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID.

The NIH team reported its findings in a peer-reviewed study that appeared in the journal Cell Host & Microbe earlier this month.

Since the vaccine cheerleaders are all up in arms over this, I suppose we’d better take a look at the details. The breakthrough in question deals with the structure of the virus itself and how the new version of the vaccine attacks it. The current vaccines attack the “spike protein” of the virus, which is the structure it uses to attach itself to and attack human cells. The new design reportedly digs down deeper and attacks the “spine helix” inside of the spike protein.

Why does that matter? I’m no doctor, but the researchers reporting on this development claim that the spike protein has been mutating in the later variants of the disease, making the existing vaccines less effective. But the spine helix has remained the same… so far. If the newly designed vaccine can take out the spine helix and it doesn’t begin to mutate as well, it should not only defeat the virus but continue to work as new variants arise.

I suppose that all sounds great on paper, but it still doesn’t address one of the fundamental questions that keep arising. This “new” design of the vaccine is still just another mRNA vax. And it’s already (finally) been established and even admitted by the CDC that the mRNA vaccines do not stop you from catching the virus or spreading it to others. It just makes you less likely to die or suffer the worst effects.

That’s certainly important and not to be scoffed at, to be sure. But is anyone at the NIH also perhaps working on an “old fashioned” COVID vaccine that uses a weakened sample of the virus to teach your body to wipe it out entirely? You know… like an actual vaccine that stops you from getting sick? I know the Chinese developed some using that traditional method. Their efficacy rates weren’t all that great when they first rolled out the CoronaVac and Sinopharm vaccines, but it seems as if the folks at NIH might have done better if they’d taken a run at the problem.

One other question to address regarding this new generation of mRNA boosters is how thorough the clinical trials will be before they start jabbing people with it and if they are monitoring for dangerous side effects. Keep in mind that many doctors were horrified about the “grossly inadequate” FDA oversight of the clinical trials of the first boosters. And that’s when they actually did clinical trials to begin with. The FDA authorized the last round of boosters without any data from testing on human patients. Perhaps we’ve had enough “warp speed” for the time being and we should be slowing our roll a bit and not repeating past mistakes.

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