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The Army’s vaccine could protect against COVID and all future coronavirus

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The Army's COVID vaccine went into clinical trials with humans in March 2021.

Marcy Sanchez / US Army
Visit the websites of the WHO and the CDC for the most up-to-date news and information on the coronavirus pandemic.

The White House Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anthony Fauci recently stressed the government's investment in a universal Vaccine against covid-19 which could successfully combat all varieties. In an interview with NBC on Thursday, Fauci said there was a concerted effort to develop a universal COVID vaccine that "would mean that the initial vaccination would cover all of these small variants, so you do not have to worry."

"We want a pan-coronavirus vaccine so you have it on the shelf to respond to the next viral pandemic," Fauci said. "Ultimately, you want a vaccine that covers everything."

That dream of a universal vaccine is exactly what researchers at the U.S. Army Walter Reed Army Research Institute (WRAIR) have been working on for most of the past year. In December, the U.S. Army announced that its pan-coronavirus vaccine, the spike ferritin nanoparticle COVID-19 vaccine (aka SpFN), had completed Phase 1 of human trials with positive results.

Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, Director of Infectious Diseases at WRAIR and co-inventor of SpFN, told Defense One: "We are testing our vaccine against all the different variants, including omicron," the strain causes breakthrough infections, even in individuals who have received booster shots.

However, SpFN still needs to undergo Phase 2 and 3 human trials to test its effectiveness and safety against current treatments, Modjarrad said.

We share what we know about the Army's COVID-19 vaccine, including how it works and when it may become available.

For more, here's what we know about omicron variant today and the evolving definition of what it means to be "fully vaccinated" against COVID-19.

What is the US Army COVID-19 vaccine?

The three vaccines currently approved for use in the United States have two approaches to preventing COVID-19 infection: The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use mRNA to build immunity, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses a harmless rhinovirus to train the body's immune system to respond to COVID.

The Spike Ferritin Nanoparticle COVID-19 vaccine, or SpFN, takes a third approach, using a harmless portion of the COVID-19 virus to stimulate the body's defenses against COVID.

SpFN also has less restrictive storage and handling requirements than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, making it possible to use it in a wider range of situations. It can be stored between 36 and 46 degrees Fahrenheit for up to six months and at room temperature for up to a month, according to military researchers. Pfizer's vaccine requires an ultra-cold freezer (between minus 112 and minus 76 degrees F) for shipping and storage and is stable for only 31 days when stored in a refrigerator.

The Army's vaccine has been tested with two shots at 28-day intervals and also with a third shot after six months.

Will the Army vaccine work against various strains of COVID-19 like omicron and other coronaviruses?

SpFN is being tested in humans against the omicron variant according to Modjarrad and has shown positive results.

The vaccines from Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson are all targeted at the specific virus - SARS-CoV-2 - that causes COVID-19. But Army scientists designed their vaccine to be "pan-coronavirus," meaning it could protect against future strains of COVID as well as other coronaviruses.

The Army's SpFN vaccine is shaped like a football with 24 faces. Researchers can attach the tips of several coronavirus strains to each of the different faces, allowing them to adapt the vaccine to all new COVID variants that arise.

"The accelerating emergence of human coronavirus over the past two decades and the rise of SARS-CoV-2 variants, including most recently omicron, underscore the continuing need for next-generation preventive vaccines that provide broad protection against coronavirus diseases," he said. Modjarrad in a statement last month. "Our strategy has been to develop a 'pan-coronavirus' vaccine technology that could potentially offer safe, effective and lasting protection against multiple coronavirus strains and species."

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When will the Army's COVID vaccine be available?

No date has been set. The SpFN successfully conducted animal experiments and completed Phase 1 human trials in December, but it will still conduct Phase 2 and 3 human trials when comparing its safety and efficacy with current vaccine options.

Normally, the completion of all three phases can take up to five years, but the urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the process. For example, the Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines were tested, reviewed, and approved by the Food and Drug Administration over the course of one year.

So what happens to the Army SpFN vaccine?

After data from Phase 1 human trials have been collected, analyzed and published, Phase 2 and 3 trials will begin. There is very little information so far on when or how these trials will proceed or whether the phases will overlap.

Visit the SpFN COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker, provided by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command, to follow developments in Army vaccine trials.

For more on COVID-19, here's what we know about how the CDC defines being fully vaccinated, how save your vaccine card on your phone, and what we still do not know about the virus after two years.

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified healthcare provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.

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