A new Aussie research program kicking off this week will investigate the most effective, long-term strategies for booster vaccinations. The research, run by the Vaccine Trials Group at the Wesfarmers Centre of Vaccines and Infectious Diseases at the Telethon Kids Institute, will run for three years funded by a $4.1 million Federal grant.
The Platform Trial in Covid-19 Vaccine Boosting (PICOBOO) will investigate whether immunity can be maximised by “mixing” vaccine booster types, how long protection lasts, as and it will evaluate how strategies may need to differ depending on age and previously administered Covid-19 vaccines.
“Australians have had access to Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccines, as well as the Astra Zeneca viral vector vaccine and now Novavax, so this research will provide high-quality data to determine which vaccine combinations work best in providing the strongest initial antibody response and long-lasting immune protection,” says Peter Richmond, lead researcher on the project and Head of Paediatrics at UWA Medical School.
“It is currently unclear if additional COVID-19 booster vaccination will be necessary soon and, if so, whether fourth and future booster doses will be required for all Australians or only select age groups or vulnerable populations such as the elderly, pregnant women and those with other medical conditions,” Richmond adds.
There’s some evidence that mixing and matching vaccines may improve protection, though preliminary evidence is hard to go on because everyone responds to vaccines differently. Recent research also suggeststhat young, healthy people may not need a fourth COVID booster any time soon, so an ongoing program of research that accounts for differences in age or comorbidities will help make Australia’s vaccine policy more nuanced.
Richmond says the research will also be critical as we move into a newer, more adaptable phase of national and international COVID policy: for example, it will help us determine whether we’ll need an annual COVID vaccine just like the flu, or whether booster vaccinations will be needed when travelling overseas to places where other strains are more dominant.
Recruitment for the initial study is now underway in Perth, with study sites in Adelaide and Launceston to follow. Researchers plan to enrol 800 healthy participants who have receied their first two COVID-19 vaccinations but have not yet had a booster dose.
PICOBOO includes collaborators from Telethon Kids Institute, The University of Western Australia, Perth Children’s Hospital, Launceston General Hospital, RMIT University, The University of Adelaide, The University of Sydney, and The Doherty Institute.