What the next generation of COVID-19 vaccines could look like

Posted at 5:30 AM, Feb 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-11 06:40:58-05

(WXYZ) — COVID-19 vaccines have been instrumental in the fight against the pandemic. Life hasn't returned to normal yet, but vaccines have been highly effective against severe disease and death, saving countless lives and helping our already strained hospital systems from being overwhelmed.

Researchers are already working on the next generation of COVID-19 vaccines in hopes of fighting new strains of the virus and making it easier to deliver vaccines to here at home and around the world.

Nearly 5.9 million Michiganders are fully vaccinated but as we have seen variants can present major setbacks.

"The virus has changed. So, the vaccine that we made, in the beginning, is not the ideal vaccine for now," Dr. Matthew Sims, the director of infectious disease research at Beaumont Health, said.

Sims said the next generation of COVID-19 vaccines could offer help. Now, work is underway on an omicron-specific vaccine, the likely jumping-off point for the next coronavirus mutation.

"The new vaccine, even though it's not to that exact variant, it's close enough that it gives you a better protection. So, it gives you a new starting point," he said.

The holy grail would be a universal coronavirus vaccine, but that’s unlikely. Sims says the virus mutates too quickly. Instead, what we may see is a coronavirus vaccine that combines the original shot and the next-gen vaccine offering broader coverage.

"If you mutate closer to the wild type or further from the wild type, you'll still get some good protection," he said.

The next generation of vaccines could change how we deliver the shot. Nasal sprays and pills would make distribution easier. But those versions may not be available this year. It could be soon.

"We are already hearing about technologically advanced vaccines that can help us with challenges and barriers and storage," Dr. Teena Chopra, a professor of infectious disease at Wayne State University, said.

She says easier storage will be key to reaching rural areas and less developed nations, a vital step in stopping viral variants. Chopra says for now, we need to focus on making current COVID-19 treatments more available.

"We have some great oral COVID drugs that are out there, but the availability is not as broad as it should be at this point," she said.

Those drugs are the next generation treatment. We have antivirals like remdesivir and monoclonal antibodies, and now research on a new pill treatment. But the backup is manufacturing. Chopra says rather than technological advancement to truly get beyond the pandemic, we need social innovation

"The U.S. has one of the lowest vaccine uptakes, and I think largely it is due to the lack of trust that our population has. So, I think we need to work on that trust component," she said.

That social innovation is key. The vaccines we have right now are really good, and future vaccines that are readjusted to omicron and that may offer broader protection will likely be available this year.

But, we need to partner social innovation and medical breakthroughs to build trust in the vaccine if we want to really beat back the pandemic.

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.