What’s the Valneva COVID-19 vaccine, the French shot that’s supposed to be ‘variant proof’?


Adam Taylor, Griffith UniversityA COVID-19 vaccine from French company Valneva has yet to complete clinical trials. But it has caught the eye of governments in the UK, Europe and Australia.

One of the vaccine’s main selling points is its apparent ability to mount a more general immune response against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, rather than rely on the spike protein to do this.

This means the vaccine is more likely to be effective against the type of virus variants we’ve already seen emerging, and may emerge in the future. Some reports describe it as “variant proof”.

The hope is vaccines using this technology would be able to provide protection for longer, rather than keep being reformulated to get ahead of these new variants.

How does it work?

Valneva’s vaccine, called VLA2001, is based on tried and tested vaccine technology. It’s the technology used in the vaccine against poliovirus and in some types of flu vaccines. And the company already has a commercially available Japanese encephalitis vaccine based on the same technology.

VLA2001 uses an inactivated version of the whole virus, which cannot replicate or cause disease.

The virus is inactivated using a chemical called beta-propiolactone or BPL. This is widely used to inactivate other viruses for vaccines. It was even used to make experimental versions of vaccines against SARS-CoV, the virus that caused SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome).

This type of inactivation is expected to preserve the structure of the viral proteins, as they would occur in nature. This means the immune system will be presented with something similar to what occurs naturally, and mount a strong immune response.

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From adenoviruses to RNA: the pros and cons of different COVID vaccine technologies

After being inactivated, the vaccine would be highly purified. Then, an adjuvant (an immune stimulant) is added to induce a strong immune response.

VLA2001 isn’t the first inactivated vaccine against COVID-19. Leading COVID-19 inactivated vaccines, such as those developed by Sinopharm and Bharat Biotech, have been approved for use in China and received emergency approval in other countries, including India.

However, VLA2001 is the only COVID-19 vaccine candidate using whole inactivated virus in clinical trials in the UK and in mainland Europe.

What are the benefits we know so far?

This approach to vaccine development presents the immune system with all of the structural components of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, not just the spike protein, as many other COVID-19 vaccines do.

So Valneva’s vaccine is thought to produce a more broadly protective immune response. That is, antibodies and cells of the immune system are able to recognise and neutralise more pieces of the virus than just the spike protein.

As a result, Valneva’s vaccine could be more effective at tackling emerging COVID-19 virus variants and, if approved, play a useful role as a booster vaccine.

Valneva’s vaccine can be stored at standard cold-chain conditions (2-8℃) and is expected to be given as two shots.

Read more:
UK, South African, Brazilian: a virologist explains each COVID variant and what they mean for the pandemic

How about results from clinical trials?

According to the company, no safety concerns or serious adverse events were associated with VLA2001 in early-stage clinical trials.

VLA2001 was given as a low, medium or high dose in these trials with all participants in the high-dose group generating antibodies to the virus spike protein.

One measure of immune response in the high-dose group after completing the two doses indicated antibody levels were, after two weeks, at least as high as those seen in patients naturally infected with SARS-CoV-2.

Interestingly, VLA2001 induced immune responses against a number of virus proteins (including the spike protein) across all participants, an encouraging sign the vaccine can provide broad protection against COVID-19.

The vaccine has since advanced to phase 3 clinical trials in the UK. The trial, which started in April 2021, will compare its safety and efficacy with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The phase 3 trial is expected to be completed by the northern hemisphere’s autumn this year. And if successful, would be submitted for regulatory approval after that.

Read more:
A single vaccine to beat all coronaviruses sounds impossible. But scientists are already working on one

Who’s interested?

Despite phase 3 clinical trials only just starting, the UK government has pre-ordered more than 100 million doses of the vaccine from Valneva, with the option of buying more down the track. If trials prove successful and pass regulatory approval, this means the vaccine could be used as a booster in time for this year’s northern hemisphere’s winter.

Australia has confirmed it’s also in talks with Valeneva about importing the vaccine. Some countries in Europe are also reportedly keen to strike a deal.

As new cases of COVID-19 increase globally, we’ll continue to see new viral variants emerge that threaten to escape the protection existing vaccines offer.

Already, we are seeing vaccines from companies such as Moderna and Novavax begin to reformulate their spike protein-based vaccines to get ahead of emerging variants.

So Valneva’s vaccine, with the potential to elicit a more broadly protective immune response, may prove to be a useful tool to combat the rise of the virus and its mutations. However, whether the vaccine is really “variant proof” or merely less affected by emerging variants remains to be seen.The Conversation

Adam Taylor, Early Career Research Leader, Emerging Viruses, Inflammation and Therapeutics Group, Menzies Health Institute Queensland, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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As protests roil France, Macron faces a wicked problem — and it could lead to his downfall


Peter McPhee, University of Melbourne

Two years ago, the streets of France were filled with the gilets jaunes (yellow vests), a grassroots protest movement sparked by a proposed tax hike on petrol.

Though they have shed their yellow safety jackets, many of these disaffected people have joined a new wave of protests that has roiled France for weeks, presenting a major challenge for the government of President Emmanuel Macron.

The protests erupted in late October after the horrific murder of the schoolteacher Samuel Paty, who had used caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad during a lesson. Thousands marched in tribute to Paty, but also in support of freedom of speech.

In the past month, protesters have also taken aim at a proposed new security law intended to combat what the government describes as “Islamic radicalism”. Nearly 150 people were arrested last weekend after protests became violent.

Rights groups and journalists’ unions have denounced what they call ‘arbitrary arrests’ at the latest protests.

The roots of Macron’s current challenge

An explanation of the tensions connecting these protests takes us deep into the history of France, as well as to contemporary crises. It also suggests that there is no simple solution.

In 1789, French revolutionaries sought to capture their twin aspirations of religious tolerance and freedom of speech in articles 10 and 11 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen.

Read more:
For French Muslims, every terror attack brings questions about their loyalty to the republic

“No man may be harassed for his opinions, even religious ones”, they insisted, while asserting that “the free communication of thoughts and opinions is one of the most precious rights of man”.

Should these natural rights be curtailed in any way? Yes, of course: as article 4 stipulates, they would be limited to “ensure the enjoyment of the same rights for other members of society”. As to how this would be achieved, “only the law may determine these limits”.

Therein lay the problem. Since “the law” would be made by national legislatures, these limits would always be instrumental — that is, made by elected politicians working within a social and political context. That is Macron’s wicked problem today.

Macron called Paty a ‘quiet hero’ at a memorial service and said he was ‘killed because Islamists want our future’.
Francois Mori/AP

The continuing debate over laïcité

Conflict over limits to freedom arose immediately between revolutionaries and their opponents after 1789. There were ribald, even pornographic, attacks on Marie-Antoinette and the Catholic Church, reflecting a deadly schism between secular, republican France and the church.

For republicans, a central legacy of the revolution has been the principle of laïcité, that is, of a secular public space.

Freedom of religion has been guaranteed in France so long as it does not disturb public order. Religion is seen as a private matter and its observance strictly separated from public life.

This is a deeply held conviction in France. It explains the 2010 law that bans the wearing of full-face coverings in public, including but not limited to burqas and niqābs.

An unidentified veiled woman is led away by police after the law banning face coverings came into effect.
Michel Euler/AP

French supporters of laïcité would find it perplexing, if not offensive, to see one Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd, holding Sunday press conferences outside his church, or another, Scott Morrison, welcoming the media inside his church and describing secular events (such as an election victory) as a “miracle”. In France, this might end political careers.

Australian and US commentators have been too ready to criticise France for not being as accepting of difference as their own societies, ignoring France’s different history and present.

Read more:
France’s laïcité: why the rest of the world struggles to understand it

From 1789, Jews, Protestants, Muslims — as well as Catholics — were guaranteed the freedom to worship, but the fine line between religious freedoms and secular public space has always been blurred, sometimes with tragic consequences.

Take Captain Alfred Dreyfus’s false conviction for treason in 1894, followed by his imprisonment and eventual exoneration in 1906. This was profoundly polarising because it embodied the violent divisions in France about the place of Jews in public life at a time of acute anti-semitism.

Dreyfus’s anti-semitic and anti-republican accusers included many clergy
— one of the reasons behind the formal separation of church and state in 1905.

The start of Alfred Dreyfus’s trial in Rennes in 1899.
Wikimedia Commons

Deep national tensions over Islam

Similarly, the beheading of Paty and subsequent terror attack in Nice in late October sparked a profound response because they occurred amid deep national tensions over the place of Muslims in France.

These tensions go back to wars of decolonisation in the 1960s, but were heightened by recent attacks at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and the Bataclan theatre in 2015.

Mourners leave flowers at a memorial to the victims of the knife attack at the Notre Dame Basilica church in Nice.

While almost all Muslim organisations in France were prompt and unequivocal in repudiating those murders, elsewhere in the Muslim world, some were hostile to the freedoms accorded to media outlets such as Charlie Hebdo to publish caricatures mocking Islam and its prophet.

Leaders in Turkey, Morocco, Pakistan, Egypt and elsewhere condemned the magazine and called for consumer boycotts of French products.

Charlie Hebdo’s defence was that it mocks everybody, and it followed with an obscene cartoon of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Read more:
Liberty, equality, fraternity: redefining ‘French’ values in the wake of Charlie Hebdo

Macron has insisted the respect due to all religions must be balanced by the right to freedom of expression, no matter how offensive some caricatures might be to people of faith.

He has defended the right of Charlie Hebdo to publish the caricatures, even though some might be banned in other countries as deliberately offensive, even racist. While France has anti-hate laws, its highest courts have also been very reluctant to penalise satire.

At the same time, Macron’s minister of national education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, has targeted “Islamo-gauchisme”, the supposed undermining of French republican values by left-wing academics and intellectuals infected by feelings of guilt for France’s colonial past.

Can Macron find a solution?

These tensions have now spilled onto the streets in unanticipated ways, as they have become embroiled with deep anxieties and divisions about decolonisation, policing and the limits to secularism. All of this comes at a time of economic despair and strident criticism of the government’s mishandling of the pandemic.

In this context, violent police raids and a sweeping national security law, which would make a criminal offence to publish photos or film identifying police officers and expand police surveillance powers, have sparked widespread discontent.

In early December, the Macron government announced a revision of the security bill. This alone will not staunch a profound crisis of confidence in the foundational values of the republic: secularism, freedom of speech and respect for religious plurality.

In such a situation, the siren calls of cultural stereotyping may become louder, and Macron may need a “miracle” of his own to keep France out of the hands of Marine Le Pen and her Rassemblement National (National Rally), formerly known as the Front National, at the presidential elections of April 2022.The Conversation

Peter McPhee, Emeritus professor, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.