András Falus was born in 1947 in Budapest, Hungary and is a professor emeritus of Budapest’s Semmelweis University and a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. His primary field of study is immunogenomics, allergy and onco-genomics. Most recently, his research has focused on histamine-related immunoregulation, non-coding DNA (e.g. microRNA) and microvesicles, a newly recognised form of intercellular communication. He has written and edited nine books and published over 300 research papers with more than 3 500 citations. Dr Falus is the former president of the Hungarian Society for Immunology. Dr Falus was a fellow at Odense University from 1980 to 1981, a professor at Harvard Medical School from 1984 to 1986 and a visiting professor at Osaka University in 1989.
In your opinion, can we expect the current COVID-19 vaccines to be effective against new coronaviruses, mutations and other diseases in the future?
I think that the new vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 will be effective against the newly recognised virus mutants. This is because the spike (S) protein itself expresses multiple epitopes, thus the immune response against the S protein is polyclonal. The probability that all epitopes are mutated simultaneously is very low.
Does the new SARS-CoV-2 variant have a higher propensity to infect children?
During the last 11 months we have believed that children are less susceptible both to infection and COVID disease. I believe that is still more or less correct. Since the new mutants spread more rapidly, the proportion of infected young people has recently risen. However, in absolute terms, they are still much more resistant than older people.
What is the main difference between the message sent to the human cells by mRNA-based-vaccine and vector-vaccine technologies?
The efficacy of vector vaccines to deliver the genetic code of the S protein into muscle cells is relatively high, which is why they are better than first-generation vaccines and even those based on protein subunit vaccines. mRNA-based vaccines do not need any vectors. By having no vector, it removes the risk that some vector viruses might replicate.
Misinformation is circulating online about the capacity of mRNA vaccines to transcribe or modify human DNA. How would you convince them otherwise?
1. Single stranded mRNA-s embedded in lipid nanoparticles can neither enter nuclei nor be inserted into the double stranded DNA of cells.
2. The chemical modification of the vaccine’s mRNA makes the interaction with human DNA impossible.
3. The half-life of modified mRNA is rather short, which also goes against this possibility.