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UC Irvine developing vaccine that targets all coronaviruses

People walk the Huntington Beach Pier in June 2020.
People walk the Huntington Beach Pier in June 2020.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

As Orange County expands its COVID-19 vaccine distribution, UC Irvine researchers are developing a vaccine that could prevent other coronavirus outbreaks in the future.

The vaccine, which will be designed to target known and unknown strains of the coronavirus, is envisioned as a long-term answer to the virus. It could be all the more crucial as new strains have emerged in the United Kingdom and South Africa.

“Our vaccine is not only targeting COVID-19 — it’s also targeting the viruses that caused previous outbreaks,” UC Irvine professor Lbachir BenMohamed said. “Don’t forget that we had several outbreaks in the last 20 years. It just happened that the outbreak that happened in 2019 is more dangerous because the virus transmitted faster. But we did have other other coronavirus outbreaks back in 2003, in 2008 and 2015. But they were contained. They were contained very quickly before they transmitted worldwide.”

BenMohamed said the vaccine will also target forms of the viruses carried by bats and pangolins. These viruses could spread to human populations in the future.

Disneyland and Dodger Stadium are among the sites being converted into large-scale vaccination centers as state and public health officials take aim at distributing and administering the COVID-19 vaccine.

“There is no guarantee that there will be no other COVIDs in the future,” BenMohamed said.

Clinical research nurse Samantha Gatewood gives Gregory Bowman a shot during a vaccine trial for AstraZeneca.
Clinical research nurse Samantha Gatewood gives Gregory Bowman a shot during a AstraZeneca vaccine trial.
(File Photo)

The researchers have been working on the vaccine since January 2020. Months later, the team received a $3.7-million National Institutes of Health grant.

The vaccines currently being distributed that were produced by Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca all target the spike protein of the virus, which is a protein expressed on the surface of the virus.

But, the UC Irvine vaccine targets several other proteins in addition to the spike protein. Each of these proteins provoke a unique immune response.

The decision followed new guidance issued Tuesday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and came ahead of the official recommendation from the state.

BenMohamed said they are currently in the pre-clinical phase of the research and are testing forms of the vaccine on animal models. He hopes to move onto the first phase of clinical trials by June.

The researchers have to work their way through three phases of testing before the vaccine can be approved and distributed.

Meanwhile, Orange County is ramping up its vaccine distribution by opening “super” sites. Disneyland will be one of five vaccination centers.

The county also announced this week that residents 65 and older are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

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