Omicron is not the final solution to fight the pandemic – a spray and a vaccine developed in Hungary are on the way, according to a virologist
Omicron will not end the pandemic
Amid the sharp daily increase in new cases of COVID-19 due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529), we asked Jakab about the vaccination protocol regarding the fourth dose (second booster), and occasional remarks from some that this could be the last wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
Referring to the uncertainty if we should get used to living with COVID-19 which would spread in less and less severe waves and eventually become similar to the common flu, he said that based on the information currently available, there are various open questions that we have no answers for now.
I think the Omicron variant is out of the question to end the pandemic.
“It is conceivable that due to its rapid spread, the virus will infect the entire population and give everyone some level of immunity, but on the one hand this immunity will wear off very quickly. On the other hand, it should also be borne in mind that
if a more virulent variant of Omicron strikes, which is also very powerful in attacking the lungs and also causes severe symptoms, we are back to square one.
The immunity acquired against Omicron, already in decline for this fall-winter season, will not provide the level of immunity desired to fight such a variant. So, I don’t think Omicron is the ultimate solution to fight the pandemic. What the next season will bring, no one can say at this point. I think that
unfortunately, there will certainly be waves of epidemics with more or less significant amplitudes,
but it is too early to predict. What is certain is that this virus will be part of our palette of upper respiratory tract infections, and in the long term it is to be expected that it will certainly cause epidemics, if not on this scale, at least more or less important infections.
Vaccination and booster doses
When asked if we should be prepared to receive regular booster doses, Jakab replied that
Excessive regular vaccination is not good. Our experience to date,
it is not recommended to vaccinate every four months,
because it’s not a common thing, and we don’t know how the immune system will react.
If we have to give an encore on an annual basis, we will see next season. But I think there will be significant advances in the development of therapeutic and antiviral drugs.
For now, of course, vaccination is our only effective weapon, but I don’t think that will always be the case.
These drugs can also help with symptomatic treatment, but if we can develop a drug that reduces the ability of the virus to replicate in the cell, then that could be targeted therapy. Both are relevant, both are being researched, both will eventually have results, he added.
Nasal spray against coronavirus
International research was launched last year by the Virological Research Group of the University of Pécs into the potential use of a widely available nasal spray in Hungary to reduce the risk of becoming infected with SARS-CoV- 2.
The substance the research group looked at is called azelastine, which is an antihistamine. “Azelastine, a histamine receptor blocker, was predicted in several screens and, based on its attractive safety profile and availability in the nasal formulation, was selected for experimental testing,” said the research group in their study.
Asked about the effectiveness of the nasal spray against Omicron and its later variants, Jakab said the the nasal spray is not dependent on the variant.
The exact mechanism of how it works in cells is under investigation, but it definitely works against omicron. Trials are ongoing, there is both laboratory and clinical experience that this could be an effective method of protection.
The clinical trials are being carried out with Austrian and German partners, he noted, adding that “the first results were very reassuring”.
Herd immunity is important when developed against a disease that provides lifelong protection. When it comes to a disease where immunity is reduced or even disappears in a few months, it is totally pointless to speak of herd immunity.
Jakab recalled that we can catch traditional cold and flu viruses year after year because we don’t develop long-term immunity to them. As with SARS-2, this immunity is short-lived and not permanent. In this regard
I don’t think it’s worth talking about herd immunity.
Asked about the multi-layered protection against the spread of the coronavirus, i.e. the simultaneous deployment of vaccines, face masks, measures to reduce the number of contacts, Jakab stressed that “this is the only thing that has meaning. We have always said
vaccination is a good thing, it can clearly mitigate the pandemic, but it is not enough on its own.
Vaccination will only be sufficient if the three fundamental epidemiological measures, wearing a mask, disinfection of hands, and respect for distance, are in place and respected. Vaccination only makes sense in this case, he added.
Vaccinated people can also transmit the virus, so they should also mitigate the risk by wearing a mask.
Jakab also pointed out that the third (booster) doses provide greater immunity than just two injections.
Asked about Omicron-specific vaccines, the virologist said that would be important, but not the long-term solution.
The solution will be to create a multivalent vaccine that protects against all [existing] and future coronavirus variants.
Several laboratories, including the one he directs in Pécs, are working on it, Jakab said, but did not wish to go into details.
New projects in progress
In many cases, we are already in the animal testing phase, which now dominates, Jakab said, highlighting three projects:
- the very first Covid project launched in the country: the ELTE-Richter-ImmunoGenes-PTE consortium, led by Professor Imre Kacskovics. (This is a protein-based drug development, it is also well into animal testing.);
- Hungarian nasal spray (note that the previously mentioned azelastine nasal spray is an existing drug);
- two vaccine development projects, one with a company residing in Pécs and the other with the biotechnology company Cebina. These are also being tested on animals.
Regarding the nasal spray, they are currently looking at, for example, how many hours the antibody applied to the nasal mucosa provides protection. The plan is that before you enter a community or enclosed space you spray it in your nose and even if you inhale viruses you must kill enough of them to completely avoid infection or overcome illness with mild symptoms .
Jakab recalled that if the viral dose is lower, the chances of transmitting the infection are also lower.
When the BSL-4 laboratory was inaugurated in Pécs in 2017, locals and even experts did not understand why Hungary needed such a laboratory, believing that it was superfluous. Unfortunately, it quickly became indispensable.
Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4) is the highest level of biosafety precautions and is suitable for working with agents that could easily be aerosolized in the laboratory and cause serious to fatal illnesses in humans for which there is no vaccine or treatment available. BSL-4 labs are typically configured to be either cabinet labs or protective suit labs. Source: Wikipedia
Jakab said there could be further developments, but they physically cannot expand.
“Now we have to take advantage of what we have,” he said.
Perhaps the only personal goal I would still like to achieve is to create a school.
“If something happens to me, I want to leave behind a school that will advance virology research in Pécs. I now see the training of young people and the education of the next generation as a very important task.”
However, he complained that “it’s very difficult to recruit young people, it’s a huge problem”.
Social media versus science
Asked about ubiquitous anti-vaxxers and possible reasons for vaccine skepticism over the mind-boggling results achieved with vaccines in record time, Jakab did not have an answer, but said social media is making things worse. greatly the situation.
“A researcher should be able to say that we don’t know. If he does not say so, he is not a researcher. Research seeks answers to open questions.
Anyone who says they know all the answers is lying.
“I think the situation is much aggravated by social media, by the immeasurable amount of knowledge that we are flooding people with. Now everyone knows everything, everyone has become a virologist, a vaccinologist and an epidemiologist in this country.
The problem is that it’s easier to read a three-line Facebook post and believe it than to listen to the expert.
“A lot of people don’t believe that here in Pécs, for example, we work because it’s our job, we love it and we want to help. There are very few people who follow a Facebook post after the to have read.
“The other thing is that our company is built on mutual trust. […] If I want blonde hair, I go to the hairdresser, she puts something on my hair and I leave it blonde. If I want to buy a house with a mortgage, the lawyer writes a 20-page contract, settles things, I sign it and leave happy. Because I trust him.
So why don’t we trust researchers? Why don’t we believe that they studied, worked and chose this profession to help us and ensure that we live a happy and healthy life?
The problem is that this mutual trust has been shaken in people because they suspect ulterior motives in everything, and that’s not good. There is no trust and it is visible globally.
Cover photo: University of Pécs