US invests $5bn programme to launch next-gen Covid vax: Report

Washington, April 11 (IANS) The US government has launched a $5 billion programme to accelerate the development of next-generation Covid-19 vaccines and treatments, according to media reports.
‘Project Next Gen’ would succeed ‘Operation Warp Speed’ with a mission to develop next-generation vaccines and therapies against newer and existing Covid variants, the Washington Post reported.
Operation Warp Speed, under then President Donald Trump, developed and distributed vaccines in the early days of the pandemic in 2020.
“While our vaccines are still very effective at preventing serious illness and death, they are less capable of reducing infections and transmission over time,” a spokesperson from the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was quoted as saying to the Post.
“New variants and loss of immunity over time could continue to challenge our healthcare systems in the coming years.”
Project NextGen will cut across government agencies and involve public-private collaborations, a senior government official was quoted as saying to USA TODAY.
Current vaccines, developed rapidly in the heat of the emergency, are “really good, but they’re not great,” said Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist who worked with the Joe Biden administration to develop the new programme.
“There is a substantial amount of work (to be done) to take these good vaccines and hopefully achieve better vaccines.”
Project NextGen majorly aims to develop a nasal vaccine that will hopefully prevent infection as well as severe disease; develop longer-lasting vaccines; and create “broader” vaccines that protect against all variants and several different coronaviruses, the report said.
It will also include funding to develop more durable monoclonal antibodies resistant to new variants, according to the administration. Antibodies were highly effective treatments earlier in the pandemic but have not been able to keep up with the virus as it evolved and are no longer available.
According to the administration, the allocation of $5 billion will be financed through money saved from contracts costing less than originally estimated, the Post reported.
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden on Monday officially ended the Covid national health emergency that for more than three years underpinned extraordinary efforts to provide care for a country where more than a million people died from the disease.
According to the White House, Biden signed a law passed earlier by Congress “which terminates the national emergency related to the Covid-19 pandemic.”
This means closure of funding streams for Covid tests, free vaccines and other emergency measures.

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