Single-Shot, Temperature-Stable Vaccine
The novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is covered with spike-shaped proteins, which enable the virus to attach to and invade host cells, and in turn make it exceptionally contagious. “COVID-19’s rate of transmission and worldwide impact generated an intense research response,” says Nkolola. “No corner of the globe has been spared.” Barouch and his team developed their vaccine by engineering the Ad26 virus to deliver a fragment of COVID-19 genetic material into host cells, where it then prompts the body to recognize and react to these spike proteins. Once injected into a person’s arm, the vaccine causes a powerful immune response against the virus.
Unlike many others, the vaccine Barouch and his team developed in collaboration with J&J can be delivered in a single dose. Additionally, the vaccine is more robust thanks to Ad26’s tough coat, and can be refrigerated—in contrast to others that must be kept frozen. These two elements will help make this single-shot, temperature-stable vaccine accessible across the world, where healthcare infrastructure and shipping and storage capabilities vary. Importantly, J&J’s Phase 3 clinical trial also showed that the vaccine offers robust protection against key variants of COVID-19.
It's really a collaboration, because we're all in this together to end this pandemic.
Dan Barouch, MD, PhD
Director of BIDMC’s Center for Virology and Vaccine Research
Though the vaccine’s unique characteristics are important, Barouch is quick to point out that all vaccines are critical at this moment in time due to manufacturing capacity constraints. “It was never a race or a competition among different companies,” says Barouch. “It's really a collaboration, because we're all in this together to end this pandemic. Multiple groups have created vaccines in more or less a year, which is extraordinary.”
This inclusive and collegial worldview is characteristic of Barouch’s approach to research—and of his lifetime desire to make an impact across the globe. It’s also reflective of his team, which although based in Boston, comprises scientists originally from multiple continents. “We have an incredible group of scientists from all over the world that have worked with Dan for years,” says Stephenson. “Some people haven't had a day off in a year, including weekends.” Their work hasn’t been for naught, and is making an impact globally. South Africa was the first nation in the world to begin vaccinating its population with the J&J vaccine, one week prior to emergency use authorization in the US. In early March, it was also authorized by the European Union. J&J vaccinations were temporarily paused in the US in April 2021 due to the risk of a rare complication known as thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome. After a comprehensive review by the CDC and the FDA, the pause was lifted after 10 days. The J&J vaccine has been, and will continue to be, an essential piece of vaccination strategies across the globe.
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