Study Finds Universal Coronavirus Vaccine Could Save Billions of Dollars and Lives in Future Pandemics


A new study suggests that developing a universal coronavirus vaccine ahead of future pandemics could save billions of dollars and millions of lives. The vaccine would target common parts of the virus found in various coronaviruses, providing some protection against a range of strains, including SARS-CoV-2.

The study, conducted by researchers from the Public Health Informatics, Computational and Operations Research (PHICOR) group, the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy (CUNY SPH), and the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM), analyzed the potential health and economic benefits of having a universal vaccine available at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings were published in the journal eClinicalMedicine.

Using a computational model that simulated the entire U.S. population, the researchers assessed the impact of a universal coronavirus vaccine on the spread of the virus and resulting health outcomes, such as infections and hospitalizations, as well as economic outcomes, including direct medical costs and productivity losses.

The findings showed that vaccinating with a universal coronavirus vaccine would be cost-saving, even with an efficacy as low as 10%, and if only 10% of the U.S. population received the vaccine. For instance, vaccinating a quarter of the population within two months of the pandemic’s start could prevent an average of 14.6 million infections and save over $27 billion in direct medical costs.

Even with low vaccine coverage at the beginning of the pandemic, such as providing the vaccine to high-risk subpopulations, similar to the approach taken with mRNA vaccines in December 2020, a universal vaccine would still be highly cost-effective.

Given that a fourth coronavirus outbreak is anticipated within the next decade, as COVID-19 followed the SARS and MERS pandemics, the development of a universal vaccine becomes a priority. It would be a cost-effective and cost-saving solution, according to Peter J. Hotez, MD, Ph.D., co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.

The study also revealed that a universal vaccine remains cost-effective even if a more specific and efficacious strain-specific vaccine becomes available. In a scenario where it takes more than four months for a strain-specific vaccine to be developed and reach the market, using a universal vaccine would still result in cost savings.

For example, if a strain-specific vaccine with 90% efficacy is unavailable for two months after the start of the pandemic, vaccinating 10% of the population with a universal vaccine with 10% efficacy could save over $2 billion in societal costs.

The study emphasizes the importance of providing some degree of immune protection to as many people as possible during a pandemic. Bruce Y. Lee, MD, MBA, executive director of PHICOR, explains that having a universal vaccine readily available could be a game-changer, even if a more specific vaccine can be developed later.

The researchers also found that a universal vaccine would still be cost-saving even if the cost per vaccination reaches as high as $10,390 from a societal perspective. This highlights the value of investing in the development and stockpiling of a universal coronavirus vaccine.

In conclusion, the study underscores the potential benefits of a universal coronavirus vaccine in future pandemics. By having such a vaccine available from the start, millions of lives could be saved, suffering could be minimized, and billions of dollars could be saved in medical costs and other expenses. Developing and stockpiling a universal vaccine becomes a priority in ensuring preparedness for future outbreaks.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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