Human testing underway for COVID-19 vaccine developed by Army

A coronavirus vaccine is prepared
Greg Nash

The U.S. Army began human testing on Tuesday for a COVID-19 vaccine that it developed as researchers aim to increase the effectiveness of inoculation against several variants of the virus. 

The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) said in a release that the first phase clinical trial will test 72 healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 55 who do not have a record of previous COVID-19 infection.

The WRAIR vaccine is designed to build from the current vaccines that the Food and Drug Administration has already approved. Researchers created a nanoparticle experimental vaccine placing a copy of a protein found on COVID-19 to another protein called ferritin, which is typically seen in human blood.

The release says this configuration “offers a flexible approach” for the body to fight several variants of COVID-19 and possibly other coronaviruses, which researchers said could improve a person’s protection from the virus. 

Pre-clinical trials determined that the Army-developed vaccine was successful in combating the three major COVID-19 variants as well as the main strain. 

In the upcoming clinical trial, a portion of participants will get one dose of the WRAIR vaccine, while others will receive two doses four weeks apart. The initial data will be documented two weeks after the second dose or six weeks after the first dose.

Kayvon Modjarrad, director of the Emerging Infectious Diseases Branch at WRAIR and co-inventor of its vaccine, said his team was “concerned” about COVID-19 variants before several were discovered, including those found in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

“That’s why we need a vaccine like this: one that has potential to protect broadly and proactively against multiple coronavirus species and strains,” he said in the release. 

“We are in this for the long haul,” Modjarrad continued. “We have designed and positioned this platform as the next generation vaccine, one that paves the way for a universal vaccine to protect against not only the current virus, but also counter future variants, stopping them in their tracks before they can cause another pandemic.”

The primary expected completion date is set for Oct. 30, 2022, with the final study completion date slated for Oct. 30, 2023, according to  

Modjarrad told The Wall Street Journal that the first results could become public by the middle of summer, noting if the vaccine appeared successful, the Army would work with a drug company on other tests and development.  

These experimental vaccines, beyond the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and the first first rounds of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, could prove better at combating variants, potentially leading to the new vaccines being used for initial vaccinations or boosters in the country.

Concerns about the current vaccines’ effectiveness against the more contagious strains of coronavirus have mounted this year as variants spread rapidly across the U.S. and around the world. 

Initial studies have concluded that the three vaccines approved in the U.S. remain effective against the other strains. But the variant first found in South Africa appeared to make Johnson & Johnson less effective and to potentially cause the other two to have a reduced neutralizing effect against the virus.

Tags Army coronavirus vaccine COVID-19 vaccine Vaccine vaccine testing Walter Reed Army Institute of Research

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