One COVID vaccine to rule them all? What you need to know about the Army vaccine


The Army’s COVID vaccine has shown success in primates and is now being tested on humans.

Marcy Sanchez/US Army

For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

There’s a new COVID-19 vaccine and surprise, it’s not from Pfizer, Moderna or any pharmaceutical company. The US Army has announced early results for a vaccine developed by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research that includes defense against the now dominant omicron variant of COVID-19 — a strain causing breakthrough infections in people who have received two vaccine shots or more.

Vaccines have been proven highly effective at preventing serious illness and death from COVID-19. Recent Jan. 5 data from Washington state shows that people over 65 are 13 times more likely to be hospitalized and 15 times more likely to die from COVID-19 compared with those over 65 who received two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson.

As the omicron variant surges around the world and outbreaks among the “fully vaccinated” leave governments and medical experts scrambling, an effective Army vaccine for existing and future COVID-19 variants could become a pandemic-changing solution for stopping reinfection from coronavirus mutations.

The Army isn’t only gunning for COVID-19. Scientists are designing the vaccine to be adaptable for all viruses in the coronavirus family, future and past, including SARS, a virus that infected more than 8,000 people during its last outbreak in 2003. 

We’ll share what we know about the Army’s COVID-19 vaccine, including how it works and when it could become available. Here’s the current status on federal vaccine mandates, what we know about omicron today and seven mask myths putting people at risk today.

The three vaccines authorized right now for use in the US take two approaches to protecting against COVID-19 infection. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use mRNA to build up immunity against the disease, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses a harmless virus (not the one that causes COVID-19) to train the body’s immune system to respond to COVID.

The US Army vaccine — officially named the Spike Ferritin Nanoparticle (or SpFN) COVID-19 vaccine — takes a third approach, using a harmless portion of the COVID-19 virus to spur the body’s protection against COVID.

The Army’s vaccine also has less restrictive storage and handling requirements than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, allowing it to be used in a wider variety of situations. The Army’s vaccine can be stored in a refrigerator between 36 degrees Fahrenheit and 46 F for up to six months and at room temperature for up to one month, according to military scientists. Pfizer’s vaccine requires an ultra-cold freezer (between 130 degrees F and -76 F) for shipment and storage and is stable for 31 days when stored in a refrigerator.

The vaccine has been tested with two shots, 28 days apart, and also with a third shot after 6 months.

The vaccines from Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson all target the specific virus — SARS-CoV-2 — that causes COVID-19. Army scientists are going broader and designed their vaccine to be “pan-coronavirus,” meaning they plan to use it against a variety of coronaviruses, including new strains of the virus as they emerge.

Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, founding director of the Emerging Infectious Diseases Branch at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, told the Army Times, “We have designed and positioned this platform as the next generation vaccine, one that paves the way for a universal vaccine to protect against not only the current virus, but also counter future variants, stopping them in their tracks before they can cause another pandemic.”

Though the Army’s vaccine hasn’t been directly tested on the omicron variant, scientists working on the vaccine said its protection has shown promise against omicron in the lab using human trial samples.

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