Northwestern Medicine scientists have shown for the first time that coronavirus vaccines and prior coronavirus infections can provide broad immunity against other, similar coronaviruses. The findings build a rationale for universal coronavirus vaccines that could prove useful in the face of future epidemics.
“Until our study, what hasn’t been clear is if you get exposed to one coronavirus, could you have cross-protection across other coronaviruses? And we showed that is the case,” said lead author Pablo Penaloza-MacMaster, assistant professor of microbiology-immunology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
The findings were recently published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
Will there ever be one universal coronavirus vaccine?
Given how different each coronavirus family is, that answer is “likely no,” said the study authors. But there may be a path forward for developing a vaccine for each coronavirus family (Sarbecovirus, Embecovirus and Merbecovirus), they said.
“Our study helps us re-evaluate the concept of a universal coronavirus vaccine,” Penaloza-MacMaster said. “It’s likely there isn’t one, but we might end up with a generic vaccine for each of the main families of coronaviruses, for example a universal Sarbecovirus vaccine for SARS-CoV-1, SARS-CoV-2 and other SARS-related coronaviruses; or a universal Embecovirus for HCoV-OC43 and HKU1 that cause common colds.”