The future of vaccination against Corona: Corona vaccines are not a safe bet

There will likely not be as long queues for the corona vaccination as here in Stuttgart. Photo: Lichtgut / Max Kovalenko

The virus has changed — and the consequences for the vaccine trade are enormous. Many questions remain unanswered: Who will need the booster vaccinations and how often in the future? And against what variables?

Corona vaccines are still a goldmine. In addition to Biontech, the American manufacturer Moderna, which relies heavily on this business, reported current figures: in the first quarter of 2022, sales rose about 220 percent year on year to $6.1 billion (about $5.8 billion). euro). Profits tripled to $3.7 billion compared to last year.

The golden future of manufacturers?

At first glance, manufacturers of Corona vaccines had a bright future: vaccinate a large proportion of the population and then develop a vaccine that adapts to the latest variables circulating each year and benefit from more mass vaccines. That’s how it’s been working with the flu vaccine for many years — and given the greater risk of corona, the arguments for an annual boost sounded better.

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As early as the middle of last year, Mainz-based manufacturer Biontech and its US partner Pfizer tried to use data from Israel to prove that after a few months, protection against infection had decreased and that more vaccines could restore that protection. On the other hand, Biontech President Ugur Sahin emphasized how flexible and fast mRNA technology is to adapt to the latest variants. For example, last November, when the omicron variant was spreading worldwide, he said it only took a hundred days for an updated vaccine to be approved for approval. The 100 days are up – and there is no approved vaccine from Biontech or its US competitor Moderna, which also relies on mRNA. The virus has frustrated them. It mutates much faster than expected. Even the record-breaking pace of adaptation to mRNA vaccines is not fast enough. Thus the majority of people in Europe were already infected with Omicron before any new vaccines appeared.

The pace of development is not enough

Another idea: Anyone who has been vaccinated two or three times would probably do better and might also have a so-called superinfection well protected from severe long-term consequences. It’s controversial if another booster can add anything to it. Three vaccinations appear to suffice, at least in the younger and less vulnerable age groups, as with other diseases.

Difficult strategy for manufacturers

The problem for vaccine manufacturers: They currently have to make strategic decisions without knowing the specific needs that will be this fall. It seems relatively certain that the vaccine will then target an omicron or at least contain an ingredient against that variant. But given the experience so far, it is entirely possible that a new variant that has undergone major changes will spark this plan.

Who needs a booster dose?

Most importantly, no one knows who needs this booster shot. The second booster with the previous vaccine, which is already possible, is treated quite differently by different countries: the USA recommends it from the age of 50, the German Vaccination Committee only for people from the age of 70 – and the European approval authority only from the age of 80. On any However, demand has been cautious so far: In Germany, only 4.9 percent, including 15 percent of the population over the age of 60, have been vaccinated for the fourth time. All of this explains why developers of mRNA technology no longer necessarily see the dominant commercial future in their astonishing success to date, the corona vaccine.

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