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Preparing for Pandemics: RNA Vaccines at the Forefront

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  • Preparing for Pandemics: RNA Vaccines at the Forefront

    Jesse H.Erasmus1Deborah HeydenburgFuller11Department of Microbiology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
    Available online 23 June 2020.

    With coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), it is now clear that the preparedness of the healthcare system for the levels of morbidity and mortality that could occur with a serious pandemic, whether due to influenza or COVID-19, is uncertain, but what is certain is the need for vaccine platforms that can be rapidly developed and scaled up to combat current and future pandemics. Prior to the emergence of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)-coronavirus 2 (CoV-2), the virus that causes COVID-19, researchers were preparing for the next influenza pandemic. Influenza pandemics have occurred throughout history and continue to be a threat, but existing vaccines will be inadequate. Antibody responses induced by current influenza vaccines can protect against homologous viruses but are less effective against antigenic variants and provide little, if any, protection against genetically shifted viruses. In addition, the logistics and time frame for the manufacture and administration of conventional killed or live attenuated influenza virus vaccines require at least 6 months from the identification of a strain to vaccine distribution and then an additional 1–2 months for widespread delivery. Such a time frame will limit vaccine availability during a worldwide pandemic. A significant challenge, therefore, is to develop new vaccine strategies that have shortened production times.
    In addition, for influenza, and possibly SARS-CoV-2, the most effective pandemic vaccine will need to address genetic drift and shift by providing broad spectrum protection against divergent influenza strains. Such a universal influenza vaccine is believed to be possible if it can induce immune responses against conserved regions of influenza.

    ... With the likelihood that the continued spread of SARS-CoV-2 could be exacerbated during flu season,1 the development of a universal influenza vaccine remains a high priority.