The Covid pandemic may be “over” in the United States, according to President Joe Biden, but a recently discovered Covid-like sarbecovirus is stirring fresh fears that the next pandemicis already on the horizon.
A team from Washington State University has recently discovered a coronavirus in Russian bats that may have the potential to combine with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, and infect humans.
“A recently discovered virus in a Russian bat that is similar to SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID-19, is likely capable of infecting humans and, if it were to spillover, is resistant to current vaccines,” a press release stated.
“A team lead by researchers in Washington State University’s Paul G. Allen School for Global Health found spike proteins from the bat virus, named Khosta-2, can infect human cells and is resistant to both the monoclonal antibodies and serum from individuals vaccinated for SARS-CoV-2. Both Khosta-2 and SARS- CoV-2 belong to the same sub-category of coronaviruses known as sarbecoviruses,” the report continued.
“Our research further demonstrates that sarbecoviruses circulating in wildlife outside of Asia – even in places like western Russia where the Khosta-2 virus was found – also pose a threat to global health and ongoing vaccine campaigns against SARS-CoV-2,” said Michael Letko, WSU virologist and corresponding author of the study published in the journal PLoS Pathogens.
Unsurprisingly, the discovery has Letko calling for a “universal vaccine” that can protect against sarbecoviruses in general, rather than just against known variants of SARS-CoV-2.
“Right now, there are groups trying to come up with a vaccine that doesn’t just protect against the next variant of SARS-2 but actually protects us against the sarbecoviruses in general,” Letko said. “Unfortunately, many of our current vaccines are designed to specific viruses we know infect human cells or those that seem to pose the biggest risk to infect us. But that is a list that’s everchanging. We need to broaden the design of these vaccines to protect against all sarbecoviruses.”
That press release notes that, “While hundreds of sarbecoviruses have been discovered in recent years, predominantly in bats in Asia, the majority are not capable of infecting human cells. The Khosta-1 and Khosta-2 viruses were discovered in Russian bats in late 2020, and it initially appeared they were not a threat to humans.”
“Genetically, these weird Russian viruses looked like some of the others that had been discovered elsewhere around the world, but because they did not look like SARS-CoV-2, no one thought they were really anything to get too excited about,” Letko said. “But when we looked at them more, we were really surprised to find they could infect human cells. That changes a little bit of our understanding of these viruses, where they come from and what regions are concerning.”
Letko noted that the new virus is lacking some of the genes believed to be involved in pathogenesis in human, but there is a risk, however, of Khosta-2 recombining with a second virus like SARS-CoV-2.
“When you see SARS-2 has this ability to spill back from humans and into wildlife, and then there are other viruses like Khosta-2 waiting in those animals with these properties we really don’t want them to have, it sets up this scenario where you keep rolling the dice until they combine to make a potentially riskier virus,” Letko said.
Another real danger is that pharmaceutical companies and governments now have considerable perverse incentives for viral pandemics to arise and spread throughout populations. Since medical ethics was pushed to the wayside during the Covid pandemic in favor of massive profits for Big Pharma and government “emergency powers,” there is no reason to trust that the next pandemic will be entirely natural in origin. Three years later, it’s not even clear if SARS-CoV-2 is a ‘wild’ or synthesized ‘manmade’ virus.
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OPINION: This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion.