Clinical trials are under way of a new Covid-19 vaccine developed by the United States Army.

Galway man Dr Gordon Joyce is one of the lead scientists on the project and believes the vaccine will offer a flexible approach to target multiple variants of Covid-19 and possibly other coronaviruses as well.

The "pan-coronavirus" approach means the vaccine has the potential to protect broadly and proactively against multiple coronavirus species and strains.

The research is being carried out at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research outside Washington DC where Dr Joyce is the head of structural biology.

"We're very focussed on getting a Covid-19 vaccine out in the next year, but this type of response is also a framework and provides a platform going forward for our efforts to develop a vaccine against all coronaviruses," Dr Joyce told RTÉ News.

There is a set of coronaviruses that cause the common cold and there is always a potential for another Covid outbreak.

"We now have the opportunity to get ahead of future outbreaks and to generate a vaccine that can be protective against all coronaviruses," Dr Joyce said.

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In the past, he has studied viruses such as HIV and influenza, and up until the pandemic had been working on a vaccine for a different type of coronavirus, MERS.

Dr Joyce said the first priority is that a vaccine is safe and then secondly they have to ensure it actually works and protects against the virus.

The trials begin as new cases of Covid-19 in the US rose 5% to more than 450,000 last week, the third week in a row that infections have increased, according to a Reuters analysis of state and county data.

The average number of Covid-19 patients in hospitals rose 4% to more than 37,000 in the week ended 4 April, breaking a streak of 11 weeks of falling admissions.

Health officials have expressed concern about the increase in travel around the Easter holiday and school spring breaks, at a time when more infectious variants of the coronavirus are circulating.

Twenty-seven out of 50 states reported increases in new cases last week compared with the previous seven days, according to the Reuters analysis.

For a sixth week, vaccinations set a record, with an average of 3.1 million shots given per day last week.

As of Sunday, 32% of the US population has received at least one dose and 19% was fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

Additional reporting Reuters