University of Pennsylvania scientists are working to create a vaccine that would protect not just against Covid-19, but all coronaviruses, saying they hope it will be “ready to go” when the next pandemic hits.

The effort to create a ‘pan-coronavirus’ jab is being spearheaded by US immunologist Drew Weissman, whose research paved the way for the current mRNA Covid-19 vaccines.

“You have to assume there’s going to be more [pandemics],” Weissman told the AFP news agency on Friday, saying there was no justification in waiting for the next crisis before beginning work on the next vaccine.

“Our idea was that we could wait for the next coronavirus epidemic or pandemic, and then spend a year and a half making a vaccine. Or we could make one now and have it either ready to go, or use it now,” he said.

On Thursday, Weissman shared the $3 million 2022 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences with co-researcher Katalin Karikó.

The scientists shared the award for their work in modifying messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) molecules to help the human body fight viruses by instructing cells to produce certain proteins and evoke antibodies.

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, currently being used to fight Covid-1, are based on that research. 

Covid-19 is just one of the epidemics that have impacted the world in recent years, along with the original SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) viral infections.

Weissman’s team have already begun work on the project, and he said their new aim was to train the immune system to detect and respond to parts of the virus called ‘conserved regions,’ as, unlike the spike, those do not mutate fast. 

Weissman said he was shocked there was any controversy over the efficacy and safety of mRNA vaccines.

“The conservative anti-science, anti-government people completely surprised us. I just didn’t expect that group to come out against vaccines,” he said.

Earlier this year, as the Delta variant took hold, the immunologist warned that coronavirus variants would keep getting “scarier and scarier.”

According to Weissman, between 75% and 85% of the world’s population must be vaccinated “to get the pandemic under control.”

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