Experts air vision for better vaccines as BA.5 expands dominance

At a White House COVID-19 vaccine summit, experts today discussed what better vaccines would look like, such as one that would block transmission, as the Omicron BA.5 subvariant gained an ever bigger foothold in the United States.

Wanted: broader protection, blocked transmission and infection

Today's vaccine summit, held both in person and on Zoom, was designed to spur discussions on a more broadly protective vaccine and better ways to deliver and equitably distribute it.

Tony Fauci, MD, chief White House medical advisor, said given the steady stream of variants of concern, countries need a broader, more durable vaccine to protect against future coronaviruses. He added that the current focus is a pan–SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, but the next step would be a pan sarbecovirus vaccine, which would be useful for tackling new emergences from bats. Sarbecoviruses are the viral subgenus containing the SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-Cov-2.

Fauci and other scientists at today's summit highlighted the advantages of a mucosal vaccine approach, which can more quickly prompt immunity and block infection and transmission. Another benefit is needle-free administration. However, he noted that mucosal immunity is hard to assess.

Akiko Iwasaki, PhD, an immunobiologist with the Yale University School of Medicine, said transmission-blocking vaccines are really the only way to stop long COVID and blunt the emergence of variants.

Officials also discussed ways to speed research and better navigate regulatory hurdles.

When asked about the benefits of next-generation vaccines for the world, Paul Burton, MD, PhD, Moderna's chief medical officer, said they raise confidence, provide a way to exit the pandemic, and are better tools for tamping down future pandemics.

At today's meeting, experts also discussed ways to make the most of existing immunity from current injectable vaccines.

In closing comments, Ashish Jha, MD, who coordinates the White House COVID-19 committee, said the COVID-19 vaccine achievements thus far have been unprecedented and show the great progress that public-private partnerships can achieve. He added that the world has plenty of vaccine now, and the main challenge is how to deliver it, given resource problems.

BA.5 subvariant expands dominance

In updated variant data today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the BA.5 Omicron subvariant now makes up almost 82% of sequenced samples, up from 75.9% last week. The proportion of the closely related BA.4 variant declined slightly and currently accounts for 12.9% of sequenced samples.

In other US developments, the number of children infected with COVID-19 increased for the second straight week, the American Academy of Pediatrics said in its latest weekly update.

The latest survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation found lukewarm support for kids' vaccination among parents, with 43% of parents with children under 5 saying they will "definitely not" get them vaccinated against COVID and 27% responding that they will wait and see. Parents said they were concerned about the newness of the vaccine, not enough testing, and potential side effects.

A separate analysis from Kaiser found that as of Jul 20, only 544,000 children (2.8%) in the newly eligible younger age-group have been vaccinated.

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