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Researchers make major COVID breakthrough, create affordable shot to vaccinate the world

Doctor Peter Hotez and Doctor Maria Elena Bottazzi pictured in one of their laboratories in Texas (Photo: Baylor College of Medicine)
Doctor Peter Hotez and Doctor Maria Elena Bottazzi pictured in one of their laboratories in Texas (Photo: Baylor College of Medicine)
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WASHINGTON (TND) — Texas researchers say they have made a monumental breakthrough in the battle against COVID-19.

The team of scientists have developed an affordable, easy to produce vaccine that can be scaled up globally quickly, they say. The development is a major step forward in the effort to vaccinate low-and-middle-income people around the world. But the hope is their work will also be critical in stopping the spread of COVID variants that begin in other countries, before having a devastating impact in the United States.

The COVID-19 vaccine has been a literal shot in the arm in the battle against coronavirus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 65% of all Americans have been fully vaccinated as of late February. Cases of coronavirus are on the decline and anyone who wants the shot can find it pretty much anywhere across the nation. But around the globe, COVID vaccines can be hard to come by. That’s a problem Dr. Peter Hotez is trying to solve.

Hopefully this can fill the horrible inequality gap that’s out there to vaccinate the world," Hotez told Spotlight on America.

Hotez is the codirector of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development at Baylor College of Medicine. His team, which includes the center's other co-director, Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi, has made a monumental breakthrough. They created a cheap, easily produced vaccine that could help millions of low and middle income people worldwide.

Hotez explains: "It’s a vaccine that uses a technology that’s made locally across the world, including Brazil and Bangladesh and Vietnam and India and China and a number of other countries as well, so that if you have the technology to make a COVID-19 vaccine, it could be made and scaled to the billions and billions of doses and that’s what we’ve done."

What this pair of researchers has done is based on the building blocks of a vaccine Hotez first talked about with Spotlight on America, back in March 2020 at the start of the pandemic.

At that point he told us his team had been working on a vaccine that could have been ready to battle a virus similar to COVID-19 years before the pandemic hit. But as he told us and congressional lawmakers in a 2020 hearing, it didn’t move forward to clinical trials because of a lack of funding.

Hotez, in the video below, told us the U.S. government simply wasn’t interested in investing in this type of research until crisis struck.

Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration's effort to create, approve and distribute COVID vaccines, offered new hope for Hotez.

But he says the program, while successful in funding quick development of a shot to help Americans, didn’t factor in what was needed to scale up globally.

With that part of the problem unsolved, the Texas team developed a vaccine that used private money for public good.

The technology needed to make the shot they created, known as Corbevax, has already been licensed out to four countries, with others pending. And there’s no patent for what they've created, no strings attached. So once it’s globally approved it can be distributed to the masses for as little as $2 a dose.

So far Corbevax has already been approved for emergency use in India. And Hotez says they are actively working with the World Health Organization on global emergency use authorization.

It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to do this [research] through a children’s hospital," Hotez said. "We can join a cool group of individuals being able to make a difference in the world."

Hotez and Bottazzi could soon join another distinguished group.

In early February, Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, D-Texas, nominated the pair for the Nobel Peace Prize for their work to develop a low-cost COVID-19 vaccine and make it available to all.

Fletcher has also joined with a group of bipartisan lawmakers asking the Biden administration to help distribute the accessible vaccine created by Hotez and Bottazzi, saying COVID variants that originate in other countries like omicron and delta will continue to “threaten our own domestic health, security and full economic recovery”.

Aside from the obvious humanitarian reason to vaccinate the world, it is the fact that it's in our own enlightened self-interest. We’re going to be vulnerable yet again to another variant unless we vaccinate the world," said Hotez.

Right now, according to recent information from Our World in Data, which is affiliated with the University of Oxford, vaccination rates vary widely around the world, with some countries still at stunningly low rates. Spotlight on America combed through their statistics in late February and discovered:

  • Ethiopia - 3% fully vaccinated
  • Namibia - 14% fully vaccinated
  • Kenya - 15% fully vaccinated
  • Zimbabwe - 22% fully vaccinated
  • South Africa - 30% fully vaccinated
  • Guatemala - 33% fully vaccinated
  • Venezuela - 44% fully vaccinated
  • Bangladesh - 45% fully vaccinated
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Those low rates are unacceptable to Hotez, and his research team, which remains committed to helping end the pandemic. That can't happen, he says, without a worldwide effort.

Mother Nature is not being coy here. She gave us delta out of an unvaccinated population in India. Then she gave us omicron from an unvaccinated population on the African continent. She’s not being coy. She’s telling us exactly what she has in mind. And so we have to listen to her because the next variant is on its way," he told us.