A 'Universal' COVID Vaccine Could Save Billions If Another Pandemic Strikes

By   |  January 13, 2024

By Dennis Thompson HealthDay Reporter  |  Copyright © 2024 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Jan. 12, 2024 (HealthDay News) -- A universal coronavirus vaccine could have saved millions of lives and billions of dollars if one had been available prior to the pandemic, a new study argues.

Further, a universal vaccine -- one that targets parts of the virus common to all coronaviruses -- could still be a game-changer in the future, researchers say.

But that's only possible if one is developed before another variant mutates and runs rampant through the human population.

"COVID-19 was the third major and serious coronavirus epidemic or pandemic following SARS in 2002 and MERS in 2012, thus, we should anticipate a fourth coronavirus outbreak within the next decade or so,” said researcher Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of Baylor College’s National School of Tropical Medicine and co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.

"A universal vaccine is cost-effective and cost-saving, and a priority for advancement," Hotez added.

To figure out the potential value of having had a universal vaccine at the start of the pandemic, Hotez and his colleagues developed a computer model that simulated the entire U.S. population through the introduction and spread of COVID in 2020.

Specifically, the simulation weighed what might have happened if a universal coronavirus vaccine had been available at the start.

As history shows, scientists developed a strain-specific COVID vaccine in record time, but that still left 10 months of unchecked infection, illness and death.

Using the simulation, researchers determined that a universal vaccine would have saved money even if it had only been 10% effective against COVID and a minority of the populace had received the jab.

For example, a vaccine with 10% efficacy administered to a quarter of the U.S. population within two months of the start of the pandemic would have averted 14.6 million infections and saved more than $27 billion in direct medical costs, researchers estimate.

The benefits of a universal coronavirus vaccine would have held even if pharmaceutical companies had later crafted a better, more variant-specific vaccine, the model showed.

The findings were published Jan. 11 in the journal eClinicalMedicine.

"Our study shows the importance of giving as many people as possible in a population at least some degree of immune protection as soon as possible," said researcher Dr. Bruce Lee, a professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy in New York.

"Having a universal vaccine developed, stockpiled and ready to go in the event of a pandemic could be a game-changer, even if a more specific vaccine could be developed three to four months later,” Lee added in a CUNY news release.

More information

The National Institutes of Health has more about universal coronavirus vaccines.

SOURCE: CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy, news release, Jan. 11, 2024