Researchers already are studying potential pancoronavirus vaccines in animals and...

Researchers already are studying potential pancoronavirus vaccines in animals and analyzing how to best neutralize multiple strains at once. Credit: Getty Images/Paul Biris

The latest brass ring of the vaccination carousel will be difficult to snatch.

Nonetheless, the White House is right to focus attention on the quest for a universal COVID-19 vaccine — one that can target any variant, including those we don't know about yet, that responds to the shifting virus battleground, protects people from becoming seriously ill, and prevents transmission.

"Ultimately, we need vaccines that can protect us no matter what Mother Nature throws at us," Ashish Jha, the White House's COVID-19 response coordinator, said at a summit last month.

Jha is right, of course. But researching and developing such a magic elixir — known as a "pancoronavirus" vaccine — will take funding, commitment, and a partnership between private drugmakers and public officials, along with an extra push from the federal government to prioritize such an effort.

Researchers already are studying potential pancoronavirus vaccines in animals and analyzing how to best neutralize multiple strains at once. But so far, experts have said that the urgency that accompanied the Operation Warp Speed attempt to develop the initial COVID-19 vaccine is missing, resulting in a slower pace of research — and a slower flow of funding. 

That's unfortunate. A new deadly strain of the coronavirus, or another pandemic, could have dangerous consequences. Public health officials need the right tools as soon as possible so they're prepared before the next battle begins. That will take more than just a summit or bits of incremental progress. If a universal vaccine proves to be as game-changing as scientists say, attention and funding are necessary now. 

Underscoring the importance of research and focus on a pancoronavirus vaccine is the current response to the existing vaccine and its boosters. Parents have been particularly hesitant to vaccinate their young children against COVID-19. Gov. Kathy Hochul rightly is making a push to encourage parents to do so before the school year starts, offering pop-up sites in a "#vaxtoschool" initiative. Additional such sites, including on Long Island, would be helpful.

Parents shouldn't wait for a universal vaccine to get their children vaccinated. The current COVID-19 vaccine is an effective way to keep children safe from serious illness. Given how recent variants have led to pediatric hospitalizations, it remains a critical tool. 

But an even better solution remains tantalizing. An effective universal vaccine that offers broad protection, covers multiple variants, and avoids the need for an ongoing stream of boosters eventually could alleviate some parental concerns and appeal to those looking to avoid multiple shots.

Scientists, public health officials and others must push forward to find that brass ring — and do whatever they can to grab it.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.