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What could be the second purpose of (almost) expired vaccines and their components?

Image credit: https://www.pexels.com/photo/covid-19-vaccine-5863391/

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J. Nikola
J. Nikola Mar 31, 2022
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Recently, billions of COVID-19 vaccines have been produced. With COVID-19 lately losing momentum and countries loosening the restrictions, fewer people are interested in vaccination and vaccines start to pile up. With their expiration date closing in, vaccines should be discarded by placing them into the Sharps container and treated as medical/biohazard waste. But vaccines are specific proteins, additives, adjuvants, and much more (even expired)!
Inspirational questions
  • Can we think of a way how to use them for something else?
  • Is there an industry that needs some of the chemicals from the almost expired or expired vaccines?
  • Can we use them for the research and how?
1
Creative contributions

Can we reverse engineer vaccines back to their ingredients?

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Subash Chapagain
Subash Chapagain Apr 21, 2022
Generally, vaccines contain two distinct parts: the active ingredient and the added ingredient. The main antigen that elicits the immune response is the active ingredient and it is highly biological in nature. It might be the attenuated virus particle, an mRNA, or inactivated virus (or bacteria) depending on the type of vaccine.
The added ingredients make up the rest of the vaccine including adjuvants and the carrier of the vaccine. Adjuvants, emulsifiers, and taste improvers (for oral vaccines) are added ingredients. Aluminium salts are the most widely used adjuvants; and the adsorption of these salts to the antigen has been found to be driven mainly by electrostatic, hydrogen-bonding, van der Waals and hydrophobic interactions. Since aluminium salts based adjuvants are not directly covalently bonded to the antigen, it might be possible to detach them by using different ionic/pH modifications. If this could be done, then we could detach the adjuvant salts, purify them and reuse them for new vaccine formulations. Another adjuvant system that is used is emulsion based, though less frequent. Emulsions such as oil-in-water, water-in-oil, water-in-oil-in-water and proten-stabilized emulsions are used as nanoparticles to stabilize and enhance vaccines. For such vaccines, phase-separation can be used to separate the components and collect them. These are just some possible ideas and I am not entirely sure if they are feasible. At least in theory, they seem possible to me.
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Shireesh Apte
Shireesh Apte7 days ago
The excipients themselves are cheap and easily available. As regards the active ingredient, this may not be possible at all in the emerging age of mRNA vaccines. mRNA is highly labile and degrades rapidly unless stabilized by specialized lipic excipients. Its manufacture is a cookie-cutter process and the probability that its cost is driven down by newer synthesis methods is high. Furthermore, these reverse-engineered ingredients must remain sterile in order for them to be re-used. Hence, the cost and effort of reverse engineering vaccines (or any medicines) back to their ingredients is prohibitive.
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J. Nikola
J. Nikolaa month ago
Whoa, really creative idea! I like it.
The reactions behind separation are pretty straightforward and it shouldn't be a problem to define a protocol for each vaccine. However, I think every vaccine should be considered separately when designing a reverse engineering protocol for recycling. It's not only due to different adjuvants and active ingredients used but also due to the fact that all those ingredients have different expiry dates (if they have them at all). Since the expiration date of vaccines is determined based on the potency and stability, the latter is the one that could help us decide if recycling makes any sense. In other words, if the mRNA is shown to be unstable after 2 years and loses 30% of its potency, would it be cost-efficient to recycle it? The same information should be found for the adjuvants to see if their potency is lost. If not, they could be the primary recycling resource for expired vaccines. If we develop a way how to reintroduce the potency and restabilize the active ingredients, they could be considered too. Once again, really good idea!
Questions:
  • Would you focus on active ingredients or adjuvants?
  • How to "reactivate" active ingredients that lost potency or stability?
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Subash Chapagain
Subash Chapagaina month ago
J. Nikola Apart from recyclability, another major issue would be the cost of recycling itself. It would only make sense to recycle the components by reverse engineering if the components are relatively difficult to produce ab initio. If the cost of recycling exceeds the cost of producing these components, then producers may not have an attractive incentive to recycle. Rather, just dumping them off in a responsible manner would make more sense.
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General comments

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic2 months ago
Do they degrade even if frozen at -80 degrees celsius?
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J. Nikola
J. Nikola2 months ago
Darko Savic The freeze-dried vaccines are normally stored at -80 degrees (e.g. Pfizer can last for 6 months stored like that, Moderna too, but only 30 days when thawed). I could not find any data on refreezing. I'll update the comment when I find it.
Concerning the other vaccines, I found data that some could lose their potency after refreezing. I found a short literature review explaining it and here is the summary - HBV should not be frozen at all. The others could be frozen one or a maximum of two times. The third cycle is when most of them lose their potency.
To answer your question, it seems it depends on the vaccines. Another problem with freezing is that then you have a problem with transportation and storage, too.

[1]https://path.azureedge.net/media/documents/TS_cc_effects.pdf

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J. Nikola
J. Nikolaa month ago
Darko Savic I must say I am not sure I can properly answer this question. I would say it's information generated from potency and stability experiments over time. As the vaccines are developed, it is stored for different periods over time and then injected into animals to see if raise an adequate amount of antibodies compared to fresh vaccines . But again, if COVID-19 vaccines were developed in less than a year, the vaccine couldn't have been tested for stability longer than that period. In that sense, yes, I think they could be kept deep-frozen for longer periods. I found information that Covaxin and Covishield vaccines' expiration dates were prolonged because new data on stability was generated over time. Also, the potency doesn't dramatically drop after the expiry date. Usually, the expiry date is half of the storage after which the vaccine loses its potency and can be extended if approved by manufacturers.
However, as already mentioned, not all vaccines have the same expiration date. If the vaccine is stable for 6 months or 5 years, it makes a big difference. Also, most vaccines (all inactivated vaccines and live nasal spray influenza vaccine) must be stored between 2° to 8°C (36° to 46°F), which is the recommended refrigerator temperature. Live varicella (chickenpox) and Zostavax (shingles) vaccines must be stored frozen between -50° to -15°C (-58° to +5°F).
PS I agree with Subash Chapagain. I work with RNA, too, and it needs to be kept at -80 degrees Celsius in our lab. That's a specific mRNA vaccines problem.

[1]https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/health/covid-19-how-is-expiration-date-of-vaccines-determined--81502#:~:text=The%20shelf%20life%20of%20a%20vaccine%20is%20a%20reflection%20of,batch%20of%20the%20vaccine%20product.

[2]https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/info-by-product/pfizer/downloads/storage-summary.pdf

[3]https://www.immunize.org/guide/pdfs/vacc-adults-step3.pdf

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic2 months ago
J. Nikola reserves are probably stored deep-frozen (so no need to re-freeze). I wonder if and why they degrade at -80 if stored longer than 6 months
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Povilas S
Povilas S2 months ago
Darko Savic, J. Nikola And why can't you freeze below that? Is it the limit before damaging the structure of the proteins?
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