Army to announce vaccine that protects against an array of COVID-19 variants

Correction: This headline and story have been corrected to reflect that the COVID-19 vaccine the Army is developing has not been tested against omicron.

The U.S. Army is expected to announce that it has developed a vaccine that protects against an array of COVID-19 variants, Defense One reported.

The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) has been developing a spike ferritin nanoparticle (SpFN) vaccine since early 2020 and began early-stage human trials of the vaccine in early April.

Kayvon Modjarrad, director of WRAIR's infectious disease branch, told Defense One that the early-stage trials ended this month and yielded positive results that are currently under review.

"It's very exciting to get to this point for our entire team and I think for the entire Army as well," Modjarrad told the news outlet.

News of the vaccine comes as the omicron variant makes up about three-quarters of COVID-19 infections in the U.S. after first being identified in South Africa last month.

Experts continue to stress that vaccines and booster shots offer the best protection against the new variant. Pfizer and Moderna have both said booster doses of their COVID-19 vaccines significantly increase antibody levels against the variant.

Defense One initially reported that the vaccine was effective against all variants, including omicron. But WRAIR later issued a statement clarifying that the vaccine had not been tested on the newest variant.

"Some recent reports about Walter Reed Army Institute of Research's COVID-19 Vaccine Development have led to inaccurate representations which require clarification," the statement said. "The Spike Ferritin Nanoparticle platform is designed to protect against an array of SARS-CoV-2 variants and SARS-origin variants but was not tested on the Omicron variant."

WRAIR added that its researchers are analyzing the results from its early-stage human trials and said the final results will be published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The SpFN vaccine uses a protein with 24 faces, which allows for scientists to attach the spikes of multiple coronavirus strains on different faces, according to Defense One.

Modjarrad told the outlet that the rapid spread of the omicron and delta variants as well as increased vaccination rates made the early trials take longer than expected. Those trials needed subjects who had neither been vaccinated nor previously infected with COVID-19.

Going forward, WRAIR needs to test how the vaccine interacts with people who were previously vaccinated or previously sick.

"We need to evaluate it in the real-world setting and try to understand how does the vaccine perform in much larger numbers of individuals who have already been vaccinated with something else initially...or already been sick," Modjarrad said.

Updated 12:39 p.m.