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Covid milestone: ‘Universal’ jab to fight ALL variants could be available within a year

Boots answers common questions about the coronavirus vaccine

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Scientists from the University of Nottingham are developing a “universal” coronavirus jab that would target the core of COVID-19 instead of only the spike protein. If the vaccine is successful, it would minimise the need to adjust existing jabs when the virus mutates.

It comes as more than 14 million people in the UK have had at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

By Monday, Britain aims to inoculate 15 million people across the country.

The existing COVID-19 vaccines, including the Pfizer and AstraZeneca jabs, work by targeting the virus’ spike protein.

However, this element of the virus mutates meaning the vaccines’ efficacy could lower as COVID-19 evolves.

The new “universal” vaccine being developed is aiming to target proteins found in the core of the virus which is much less likely to mutate.

This would mean a successful “universal” jab would protect against all current variants of the virus and potentially have greater longevity.

Professor Lindy Durrant, immunologist at the University of Nottingham and head of the spin-off company Scancell, said what has happened with the current vaccines “was predictable”.

She told Sky news: “We have the advantage of learning from the inadequacies of the first generation of vaccines to make the second generation better.”

Together with scientists from the University of Nottingham, the UK company Scancell is targeting a core protein in the virus called the nucleocapsid or “N” protein, as well as the spike protein.

Scancell’s chief medical officer, Dr Gillies O’Bryan-Tear, told the Telegraph: “We don’t necessarily claim it will be a pan-coronavirus vaccine, but it has got the potential to be so simply because of where it is targeted.”

Professor Durrant added: “It doubles the chances you win over the virus.

“The chances both will mutate at the same time is unlikely.”

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The “universal” vaccine is due to begin early-stage clinical trials later this spring.

Moderna has already started testing an updated version of its vaccine to fight against the South African variant.

Other vaccine companies are also expected to follow suit as the virus rapidly evolves.

According to Sky News, Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said it may be a good idea to “hedge your bets”.

He added: “What we’re talking about here is an arms race between the immune system and the virus.

“Which can move better and faster to win the battle?

“I can see the logic [to the Nottingham vaccine].

“Our lab has seen evidence that the immune system sees many different parts of the virus and makes a response to the protein they are looking at.

“What we don’t know is how much extra that brings to the party.”

On Saturday, the UK recorded 13,308 new COVID-19 cases and a further 621 deaths in the latest 24-hour period.

The new figures bring Britain’s grim death toll up to 116,908.

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