The latest information on the second-generation vaccines being developed at McMaster and predictions for the course of the pandemic 

Administration of vaccines, including those created by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, has been ongoing for several months in Canada. We are currently in Phase 1 of our the Ontario government’s immunization campaign against COVID-19.

Ontario’s plan to immunize citizens has been expedited by two months. Phase 2 will allow approximately 9 million Ontarians to receive an approved vaccine starting in April for those who cannot work from home or are immunocompromised. Phase 3 will begin in July for all Ontarians ages 59 and under. 

This welcomed change of plan is a result of recent news regarding the approval of two additional vaccines for use in Canada, and the option to space out Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech administration by up to four months. However, the long-term implications and impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada remain uncertain. This brings into question the long-term benefits of vaccine developments with regard to pandemic control. 

It appears that Canada is on track to ensure the proper immunization of the population. Many controversies surrounding vaccine rollout in Canada have surfaced, including the arrival of only 50 per cent of the expected shipments of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines earlier this year, as a result of production issues overseas.

Another frustration expressed by Canadians is due to the total percentage of vaccinated Canadians is less than half that of Americans. Despite bumps in the road, vaccine rollout in our nation has overall been a success to date and is expected to improve in the near future.

It is in the midst of these recent developments that researchers at McMaster University have started developing second-generation vaccines. If successfully developed, approved and manufactured, these could be the first vaccines to be created entirely on Canadian soil.

The project stems from previous vaccine trials for tuberculosis conducted by Dr. Zhou Xing and Dr. Fiona Smaill, who are principal investigators on the second-generation vaccine project alongside Dr. Brian Lichty and Dr. Matthew Miller in the Robert E. Fitzhenry Vector Laboratory at McMaster.

C/O Amy Kouniakis

The first generation of COVID-19 vaccines contains a spike protein that teaches our immune system to recognize and protect us from COVID-19. The second-generation vaccines will also use the spike protein but are trivalent, meaning that they are composed of three structures found on SARS-CoV-2.

These vaccines are capable of potentially providing greater protection and immunity against COVID-19 variants. This is important given the recent rise in variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreading around the world, including in Hamilton.

“Our “second-generation vaccine” study uses two different types of adenovirus vector, a human adenovirus and a chimpanzee adenovirus, that are engineered to express three different COVID-19 virus antigens. We believe this approach will give a better protective immune response against infection by harnessing all the components of the immune system – both antibodies and a range of T cells,” said Smaill. 

“Our “second-generation vaccine” study uses two different types of adenovirus vector, a human adenovirus and a chimpanzee adenovirus, that are engineered to express three different COVID-19 virus antigens. We believe this approach will give a better protective immune response against infection by harnessing all the components of the immune system – both antibodies and a range of T cells,” said Smaill. 

This project is sure to enhance McMaster’s reputation as the “most research-intensive university” in Canada and is a source of hope in the fight against the ongoing pandemic. The vaccines also offer hope in the fight against any future similar outbreaks caused by coronaviruses. 

“If proven successful in its initial development and winning additional support, our new vaccine strategy may advance to the next stage of development and ultimately contribute to effective control of current and future pandemics and outbreaks caused by coronaviruses,” said Xing. 

With an increasing number of vaccinations and downward infection trends and recent developments on second-generation vaccines, the uncertainty regarding the longer-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic remains. Some specialists, including professors at McMaster, have even speculated that the novel coronavirus might be sticking around for the long term. It appears the virus could even become something as common as the seasonal flu in the coming years, despite global and national efforts to control the pandemic. 

“We’re not going to vaccinate our way to getting COVID off the face of the earth,” said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease specialist and professor at McMaster.

Although progress has been made in the fight against COVID-19 — and much of it right here at McMaster — it is unlikely the virus is going to be wiped off the planet anytime soon. In fact, recent findings from a Nature survey have shown that many scientists expect SARS-CoV-2 to become endemic, meaning the virus will regularly be found among people with time. However, the virus and the disease it causes will likely pose less danger with time despite remaining endemic.

Some experts have voiced that efforts to develop and administer vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 may have been short-sighted and not addressing the potential long-term implications of the pandemic. With that said, McMaster’s contributions to the fight against the pandemic through the development of second-generation vaccines will surely leave a lasting impact on the vaccine landscape and will aid in the fight against the pandemic.

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