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UVA and Virginia Tech team up to test COVID-19 vaccine in pigs

Pigs were less likely to develop severe symptoms from SARS-CoV-2 related viruses with their...
Pigs were less likely to develop severe symptoms from SARS-CoV-2 related viruses with their vaccine.(WVIR)
Updated: Mar. 24, 2021 at 6:16 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Virologists at the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech are joining forces to create a new COVID-19 vaccine that could fight against current and developing strains of the virus.

“What we want to do is think toward the future and try to find vaccines in the future that may protect against variants that are starting to come up,” said Steven Zeichner of UVA Health.

Dr. Zeichner and Dr. Xiang-Jin Meng of Virginia Tech are doing just that, by testing their COVID-19 vaccine in on pigs.

“We saw that there was one part of the virus called the ‘fusion peptide’ - which helps the virus fuse to the cells that it’s going to infect - that seems to release the genetic information into the future cells,” Zeichner explained. “So what we did was say, ‘Let’s try to make a vaccine for that.’ It’s the same in SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV), a virus that causes a very serious disease in pigs.”

The vaccine they created prevented pigs from developing some of the most harmful symptoms from the virus. Zeichner said, based on its efficacy, it could do the same for people, too.

“If you could protect the pigs against PEDV with the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine, then that suggests if we could develop a human vaccine, based on the fusion peptide, that that could be effective against many, many, many variants,” Zeichner explained.

This vaccine could be be not only a new weapon against future virus mutations. It could also fight vaccine inequity across the globe, by being the cheapest and easiest to produce, with each dose costing just $1.

“The vision we have is instead of making those vaccines in the rich countries, we can develop the processes here and then transfer those technologies to the factories in the poorer countries so they can make a vaccine and they don’t have to rely on jets flying ultra cold things around the world,” Zeichner said.

He said the vaccine is still in its beginning stages. Like every vaccine, it would need to prove its effectiveness through a series of tests and trials before being approved by the Food and Drug Administration. He also encouraged people to continue to wear masks and social distance to prevent new strains from emerging.

“This doesn’t in any way take away from the vaccines that are already out there and it doesn’t take away from the precautions that people should be taking,” he said.

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