US researchers share COVID-19 vaccine with the world | Coronavirus pandemic News

Researchers in the United States have created a cheap, easy-to-produce COVID-19 vaccine that may provide a solution to inequality of vaccine access in developing countries.

To bypass the patent restrictions of major drug companies, physicians Maria Elena Botazi and Peter Hotez at Baylor College of Medicine and the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development have used traditional vaccine technology that can be rapidly deployed to help vaccinate the world’s population.

There are countries that are ridiculously low in access and coverage. “We really have to do a better job,” Botazi told Al Jazeera. “We really need to vaccinate the whole world.”

The world has produced about 10 billion doses of vaccine since mid-2020, but more than 70 percent of the vaccines produced last year were consumed by rich countries, according to public health experts. Two years into the coronavirus pandemic, large parts of the world remain largely unvaccinated, amid the continuing risk of dangerous new variants – such as Delta and Omicron – emerging.

While major vaccine producers such as Pfizer and Moderna struggle to protect their intellectual property rights, Bottazzi and Hotez have developed a vaccine that can be used freely by drug makers around the world.

It’s called Corbevax, and it relies on traditional production methods and is based on a model the couple developed to treat SARS, the coronavirus strain that broke out in the early 2000s.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, isolated from an American patient, is seen under an electron microscope in July 2020 [The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases via AP]

Corbevax has already been approved for emergency use in India, where the vaccine manufacturer produces 100 million doses per month, according to Bottazzi and Hotez.

Licensing has also been granted to vaccine makers in Bangladesh and Indonesia, and talks are underway about production in Botswana, meaning that hundreds of millions of doses per month could soon be produced locally in countries that need the vaccines most.

“It’s very exciting,” Botazi said. “We’ve never made a billion out of anything before.”

‘Transformational’ potential

Lawrence Justin, professor of global health law at Georgetown Law in Washington, D.C., said Courbifax represents “a very important progress” in the fight against COVID-19.

“Texas is doing it really the right way by giving up its intellectual property and cooperating in technology transfer,” Gustin told Al Jazeera. “It will likely be a transformative addition to our vaccine arsenal.”

The broader US vaccine development program, Operation Warp Speed, has primarily focused on a new vaccine technology based on messenger RNA (mRNA), which teaches cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response. But while mRNA vaccines can be developed quickly, they are more difficult to mass-produce or distribute compared to older types of vaccines.

“If we were only using mRNA technology, we would never be able to vaccinate the world,” Botazi said.

President Donald Trump speaks during "The top of the rapid vaccine roll process" At the White House complex in Washington.Former President Donald Trump launched “Operation Warp Speed” in 2020 to provide government support for US drug makers to rapidly produce mRNA-based vaccines. [File: Evan Vucci/AP Photo]

However, despite the risks of new variants emerging from large unvaccinated populations in the Global South, Botazi and Hotez said they were unable to draw any interest in their project from the White House.

“Nobody cares about the US government, and nobody really cares,” Hotez told Al Jazeera. A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

Instead, Botazi and Hotez turned to nonprofit and charitable sources, including the Kleberg Foundation, the Dunn Foundation, the JPB Foundation, and others.

They have raised $7 million to fund the project, and they have now licensed the vaccine “without patents or restrictions” to pharmaceutical companies in India, Bangladesh and Indonesia.

“This concept, some people refer to as Southern Monarchy, others call it decolonization,” Hotez said. In other words, we will not now impose on other countries. They will own this.”

building abilities

The average cost of Corbevax in India is expected to be $2 a dose, the Indian government has estimated, and its expected efficacy in preventing severe disease is about 90 percent, according to preliminary data from Indian pharmaceutical company Biological E.

In Africa, many countries have less than 10 percent of their population fully vaccinated, a key measure pursued by the World Health Organization. Nigeria, a country of about 212 million people, has fully vaccinated less than 2.5 percent of its population.

A woman receives a coronavirus vaccine in Abuja, Nigeria,A woman receives a coronavirus vaccine in Abuja, Nigeria, in November 2021 [Gbemiga Olamikan/AP Photo]

Meanwhile, the United States has vaccinated 63 percent of its entire population, and standards are better in Western Europe. Important parts of Asia, South America and the Middle East are yet to catch up. The full vaccination rate in Iraq is 15%, Syria is 5% and Yemen is 1%.

There is a significant shortage of vaccine capacity [in developing nations]Prashant Yadav, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, told Al Jazeera. “We need more supplies this year.”

The US government has pledged to donate more than 1 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of 2022, with President Joe Biden boasting that the US is donating more doses than any other country. So far, 370 million doses have been shipped — but it’s “still just a drop in the bucket,” Justin said.

Rolling out Corbevax that is cheaper and easier to produce could eventually dwarf those numbers, Hotez notes: “[We’re on track to meet or exceed] The total output of the US government from global vaccines.


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