As we’ve all seen over the past year, science, and medical science, in particular, is a field where rapid developments are the norm and new discoveries are always just around the corner. The rush to create a vaccine to protect against COVID-19 has shone a light upon the multifaceted world of vaccine creation, revealing a promising new development to the general public.
A computer algorithm called Epigraph is causing a domino effect of developments in the vaccine world. This algorithm, which can create an effective vaccine for swine flu, has paved the way towards a pan-influenza vaccine as well as a pan-coronavirus vaccine.
What does this mean?
Let’s break it down.
Firstly, this brings us a step closer to a vaccine that could prevent another swine flu epidemic should one arise, like in 2009. The goal is for this vaccine to be useful both in humans and in animals known to spread such viruses with many variants. More than 460 swine-flu variants have appeared in the US since 2010, and these have strong potential to reach pandemic status if they transfer from animals to humans, which is why developing a vaccine effective against many variants in both humans and other animals is vital.
Interestingly, the same basic principles used to create this vaccine may allow us to create a pan-coronavirus vaccine. Coronaviruses are a type of virus that, like influenza, encompass a variety of different strains that cause varying degrees of illness. COVID-19 is a newer and particularly dangerous coronavirus. A pan-coronavirus vaccine could allow for a quick response should a new coronavirus begin circulating as occurred last year in Wuhan, China. This would protect populations against future outbreaks, regardless of the exact breakdown of a given strain.
This incredible algorithm is not entirely new, however. It has already been used in HIV treatments, and the technology is being investigated for creating a pan-filovirus vaccine as well. Filoviruses are the category to which the deadly Ebola and Marburg viruses belong, so much study has been devoted to preventing new strains from proliferating in communities and potentially leading to another widespread outbreak. Already, a trial vaccine has proven effective in animal subjects.
Doctors and researchers expect this algorithm to be a game-changing tool in developing vaccines for a wide variety of pathogens, even beyond those mentioned here. While science is still developing, we are well on our way to a variety of safe and effective vaccines.