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In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.

January 30, 2023 by Hannah Sachs-Wetstone

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Last week, two new studies reported promising results about the efficacy of the updated bivalent COVID-19 vaccine, which targets both the original virus and Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5. A New England Journal of Medicine study found that the updated vaccine provided additional protection against severe illness, hospitalization, and death when compared to the previously used monovalent vaccine, A second study in the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report found that the bivalent vaccine is similarly effective against the newer XBB and XBB.1.5 strains as it was against the earlier strains that it was designed to target.

A recent outbreak of avian influenza, or H5N1 flu, on a mink farm in Spain is causing alarm after the variant behind the outbreak was found to contain a genetic change that is known to increase the ability of animal-flu viruses to jump to mammals. While there have been H5N1 infections found in various species over the past year, this outbreak is unique because mammal cases in previous outbreaks were spread by contact with virus-contaminated material. In this case, the new strain itself could have the ability to spread to and between mammals. Were the strain to start spreading between humans, authorities should have the ability to quickly produce a vaccine, and the antiviral drug Tamiflu could reduce disease severity.

Moderna recently published promising results from respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine trial in older adults, echoing similarly encouraging results from four other RSV vaccine trials and last year’s approval in the European Union and United Kingdom of a long-lasting antibody treatment that protects babies against RSV. The development of a RSV vaccine has long been a challenge because the main protein on the outside of the virus has the ability to change shape as it infects cells in the body, but researchers have found various ways to address the tricky protein. The recent innovation in vaccines and antibodies for RSV has the potential to dramatically reduce illness and deaths caused by the virus each year.

About the author

Hannah Sachs-WetstoneGHTC

Hannah supports advocacy and communications activities and member coordination for GHTC. Her role includes developing and disseminating digital communications, tracking member and policy news, engaging coalition members, and organizing meetings and events.Prior to joining GHTC, more about this author