Global Virus Network Suggests Oral Polio Vaccine May Provide Temporary Protection Against COVID-19

World-renowned scientists publish strong argument for the live attenuated vaccine in Journal Science

BALTIMORE, MD, June 11, 2020: The Global Virus Network (GVN), a coalition comprised of the world’s preeminent human and animal virologists from 53 Centers of Excellence and 10 Affiliates in 32 countries, published a viewpoint in Science today that the stimulation of innate immunity by live attenuated vaccines in general, and oral poliovirus vaccine (OPV) in particular, could provide temporary protection against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

“We know specific interventions such as vaccines against a novel virus that can cause pandemic will take years to prove they work, are safe, durable, inexpensive and readily available for the world,” says Dr. Robert Gallo, The Homer & Martha Gudelsky Distinguished Professor in Medicine, Co-Founder & Director of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and Co-Founder & Chairman of the International Scientific Leadership Board of the Global Virus Network,  “Clearly, these vaccines need to go forward.  However, until there are proven efficacy, safety and global availability of the classical vaccines for SARS-CoV-2, we believe our strategy relying on simple, safe, oral, inexpensive, live vaccines will have a broad benefit against COVID-19. This can also likely be used in future pandemics, particularly of respiratory viruses, by inducing innate immunity, which is immediate and not as limiting as a specific vaccine.”

OPV is a live attenuated vaccine that was safely used in the United States from 1963-2000 and is still being used in more than 140 countries.  Large-scale clinical studies of OPV for nonspecific prevention of diseases were carried out in the 1960s and 1970s. These involved more than 60,000 individuals and showed that OPV was effective against influenza virus infection, reducing morbidity 3.8-fold on average. OPV vaccination also had a therapeutic effect on genital herpes simplex virus infections, accelerating healing. OPV not only demonstrated positive effects against viral infections, but also oncolytic properties, both by directly destroying tumor cells and by activating cellular immunity toward tumors. More recent studies confirm these broad protective effects of OPV.

“Repeated immunization has an additive effect on stimulation of non-specific protection despite antibodies induced by the first vaccination,” says Dr. Konstantin Chumakov, Associate Director for Research for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Office of Vaccines Research and Review and a GVN Center Director.  “Further, recent reports indicate that COVID-19 may result in suppressed innate immune responses, and thus, their stimulation by OPV immunization might increase resistance to SARS-CoV-2 as well as a broad spectrum of other pathogens.”

“The GVN serves as a catalyst to bring together the world’s foremost virologists,” says Dr. Christian Bréchot, President of the GVN, and a Professor at the University of South Florida.  “We are pleased to bring this idea to fruition, and we look forward to working with varying nations to initiate clinical trials.”

In addition to Dr. Robert Gallo and Dr. Konstantin Chumakov, the authors of the viewpoint in Science include Dr. Christine Benn of OPEN and the Danish Institute for Advanced Study, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark and Dr. Peter Aaby of the Bandim Health Project, Bissau, Guinea-Bissau, who are both renowned experts in clinical vaccine research, and Dr. Shyam Kottilil professor of medicine and director of the Clinical Care and Research Division of the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, a GVN Center of Excellence, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.  Dr. Kottilil, as the colleague of Dr. Gallo and Dr. Chumakov, will be the chief clinician operating the clinical trials studying OPV against SARS-CoV-2 infection.

“Pandemics are unpredictable and have devastating impact on human lives,” says Dr. Kottilil.  “Our strategy allows a rapid, simple, low-cost, global approach to curtail the present and future pandemics.”

“Studies in low-income countries have shown that OPV is associated with strong reductions in child mortality even if there was no circulating polio virus,” say Dr. Christine Benn and Dr. Peter Aaby. “In Denmark we found that OPV-vaccinated children had lower risk of getting hospitalized for respiratory infections. We think that OPV may have the same beneficial non-specific effect among adults. We will soon be starting a randomized trial including 3,400 adults above 50 years of age in Guinea-Bissau to assess whether OPV can reduce the risk of COVID-19 and other infections.”

“OPV has a strong safety record, the existence of more than one serotype that could be used sequentially to prolong protection against SARS-CoV-2, a low cost, ease of administration and much availability,” says Dr. Gallo.  “This is not complicated, the science is there to support the idea, and we need to act fast.”

About the Global Virus Network
The Global Virus Network (GVN) is essential and critical in the preparedness, defense and first research response to emerging, exiting and unidentified viruses that pose a clear and present threat to public health, working in close coordination with established national and international institutions. It is a coalition comprised of eminent human and animal virologists from 53 Centers of Excellence and 10 Affiliates in 32 countries worldwide, working collaboratively to train the next generation, advance knowledge about how to identify and diagnose pandemic viruses, mitigate and control how such viruses spread and make us sick, as well as develop drugs, vaccines and treatments to combat them. No single institution in the world has expertise in all viral areas other than the GVN, which brings together the finest medical virologists to leverage their individual expertise and coalesce global teams of specialists on the scientific challenges, issues and problems posed by pandemic viruses. The GVN is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. For more information, please visit Follow us on Twitter @GlobalVirusNews


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