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At UVa, a path to a universal COVID vaccine?


Researchers at UVa are working on a vaccine that could be equally effective against any and all COVID-19 variants. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reports.

Credit Dr. Steven Zeichner

Dr. Steven Zeichner, who works in the Child Health Research Center at UVa Health, is looking for a master key -- a universal vaccine that would work against any variation of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

STEVEN ZEICHNER: … a vaccine that targets a region of the virus that the virus has shown that it can't mutate. We think that means that the vaccine that we'll be developing would be a variant-resistant vaccine, or even a universal coronavirus vaccine.

Zeichner and his team have identified an area on the virus where the genetic code hasn't changed between variants. It's called a fusion peptide, and it allows the virus to fuse with the surface of a human host cell. It may just be a fatal chink in COVID's armor. 

ZEICHNER: One of the things that pathogens … evolved to do, is to get the immune system to pay attention to things that the pathogen can change, and to ignore parts of the pathogen that are completely essential for the life of the pathogen. 

They're currently testing this technology against coronaviruses in animals before they begin any testing with humans. In the meantime, Zeichner expressed his appreciation for the existing COVID vaccines.

ZEICHNER: I urge everybody who hasn't been vaccinated to get their vaccine and to get a booster when you're eligible.

Another benefit of Zeichner's research is that it uses a type of vaccine technology that could be easily replicated even by countries of lesser means than the U.S.

Bob Leweke is WMRA's News Director and Morning Edition host.