COVID-19 Vaccine Makers Are Looking Beyond the Spike Protein
It’s time for more weapons in the shots-versus-virus arms race.
In the race to build the world’s first round of coronavirus vaccines, the spike protein—the thorny knobs that adorn each of the pathogen’s particles—was our MVP. Spike is a key ingredient in virtually every one of our current pandemic-fighting shots; it has been repeatedly billed as essential for tickling out any immune response worth its salt. “People put all their eggs in the spike basket,” Juliet Morrison, a virologist at UC Riverside, told me. And it undoubtedly paid off.
To be clear, setting our sights on spike has served us well. The vaccines we’ve built against the coronavirus continue to be astoundingly effective shields against disease largely because the protein is such an excellent teaching tool for an immune system that’s readying itself to duel. Spike, which helps the virus unlock and enter human cells, is one of the pathogen’s most salient and dangerous features, certainly among the first that will be spotted by immune cells and molecules on patrol.