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UH develops COVID vaccine that could prove a critical tool in underdeveloped nations

Published: Oct. 15, 2021 at 5:58 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The University of Hawaii’s School of Medicine is in the final stages of developing a COVID vaccine that could prove an important tool in underdeveloped countries.

Current COVID vaccines are liquid and must be frozen to store or transport.

But Teri Ann Wong, a lab manager at the John A. Burns School of Medicine, said the vaccine they’re developing can be stored and transported at room temperature.

“In our study, it’s like a fruit freeze dried formulation that you can actually just keep up on the shelf,” said Wong. “When you need it, I’ll just add some water into it and now here’s your vaccine, it’s ready to be injected.”

Dr. Axel Lehrer, of the JABSOM’s Department of Tropical Medicine, said their goal was to develop a dry, stable vaccine to reach low-income areas where resources like refrigeration are limited.

“If we are not vaccinating the poor regions or the regions where distribution of products is really difficult,” said Lehrer. “I think we’re not going to be able to stem this pandemic.”

Lehrer said their vaccine would also require two doses.

“What we developed is a vaccine that is based on protein subunits, which is different from the current Pfizer, Moderna vaccine and also the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” said JABSOM post-doctoral fellow Dr. Albert To.

“We’ve just recently shown that the vaccines are efficacious in non-human primates and monkeys,” said Lehrer.

While the research process has gone smoothly, Lehrer said funding has been a challenge from the beginning.

“The only disappointment in the whole thing has been that financial difficulties,” Lehrer said. “They were responsible that we have to slow down development where we could be much further along already.”

They are still looking for grants or contributions as clinical trials could cost up to $2 million.

Lehrer said the investment is worth it.

“If we’re not able to vaccinate the whole population, the pandemic is not going to go away,” said Lehrer.

The UH vaccine has gone through pre-clinical development and the next step is manufacturing to meet FDA standards so that it can be tested on humans.

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