Now, though, many think the time has come.
The allergy and infectious diseases institute has created a spreadsheet for each of the 20 virus families showing what is known about each pathogen’s anatomy and vulnerabilities, said Dr. John Mascola, director of the Vaccine Research Center at the institute.
“For each virus family we are in a different state of knowledge and vaccine development,” Dr. Mascola said. Vaccines for Lassa fever and Nipah virus, for example, are in early stages. Vaccines for Chikungunya and Zika are further along.
The work to fill in the gaps in vaccine development would be done with research grants to academic scientists. “There is a lot of enthusiasm” among academic researchers, said Dr. Barton Haynes, director of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute. Although the proposal is not well known among the general public, Dr. Fauci said he has discussed it in talks to scientific audiences.
The program would also establish collaborative agreements with pharmaceutical companies to produce prototype vaccines quickly, Dr. Fauci said.
That is what happened with the shots for Covid-19. The SARS and MERS epidemics led scientists to work on a coronavirus vaccine. That led to the discovery that coronaviruses use a spike protein to infect cells, but the spike changes shape readily and needs to be held in one position to be useful as a vaccine. That could be done, researchers discovered, with tiny molecular changes in the spike protein.
Days after the new coronavirus’s sequence was published, scientists had designed vaccines to fight it.
That, Dr. Fauci said, is what pandemic preparedness can do. He’d like to have prototype vaccines for 10 out of the 20 virus families in the first five years of work.