Old vaccines for new pandemics (Ep 66)


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What has COVID-19 taught us about preparing for future epidemics? Can we trigger innate immune responses – our first lines of defense - to mitigate novel infections? Can we use live-attenuated vaccines (LAV) meant for other infections to protect us while we develop specific vaccines for new pathogens?

On this episode, we talk to virologists Konstantin Chumakov and Robert Gallo about their recent paper entitled “Old vaccines for new infections”. They and their colleagues argue that we can fight novel pathogens, like SARS-COV2, by stimulating our innate immune systems with live-attenuated vaccines developed for other pathogens (e.g., measles, rubella, polio). Such an approach might buy us time, particularly for front-line health workers or the most vulnerable among us, while pathogen-specific vaccines are developed. Many LAVs are cheap, easy to distribute, and already available where SARS-COV2 is common but its vaccine is not. We talked with Chumakov and Gallo about the prospects of using the LAV approach for future pandemics, why we didn’t use them to control COVID, and the possible mechanisms by which these old vaccines wield their surprising power.

Image: Number of people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as of June 16, 2021 (collated by Our World in Data https://ourworldindata.org/coronavirus). Total number of people who received all doses prescribed by the vaccination protocol. This data is only available for countries which report the breakdown of doses administered by first and second doses.

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