So, one of the wonderful things circulating is that we have never successfully developed a vaccine against a coronavirus. Ack! What makes us think this time is different?
Hopefully I can shed some light on the matter…in a positive way.
No Vaccines for Human Coronaviruses
First of all, it is absolutely true that we do not have a vaccine for any human coronavirus.
There are a number of common human coronaviruses. They cause mild respiratory disease, and you’ve almost certainly had one. Or more than one.
It’s called the “Common cold.” (As a note, coronaviruses are far from the only cause of the common cold, a generic term used for a variety of respiratory illnesses).
We don’t have a vaccine against these coronaviruses not because we “can’t” but because it’s really not worth it. For the vast majority of people infected with these viruses, they feel a bit unwell for a few days. Complications are rare.
The more serious coronaviruses are SARS and MERS. SARS disappeared before the process of developing a vaccine could finish, as did MERS. We’re building on that knowledge now.
So, it’s True Then and We Should Worry?
There’s no guarantee we’ll successfully develop a vaccine against COVID-19, but it’s not actually true that we don’t have a vaccine against coronaviruses.
You’ll note what I specified above.
We don’t have a vaccine for any human coronavirus.
Go to any cattle producer and ask them about BCV. Bovine coronavirus causes GI disturbances in calves. Guess what they do about it?
Vaccination. We have a vaccine for BCV. We have had a vaccine for BCV for years. It’s put up the calf’s nose.
If you have a dog, they’ve probably had kennel cough, which is caused by CRCoV. Kennel cough is a doggy cold and like human colds, not really worth developing a vaccination against. However, there’s also CCV, “Canine enteric coronavirus.” Like the bovine version it causes diarrhea. Pretty mild diarrhea. We have a vaccine for that one too, although it’s not recommended for most dogs, because it’s, ya know. Not worth it. They get minor stomach flu.
We also have vaccines for FIPV-FIP in cats, transmissible gastroenteritis virus in pigs (We’re working on one for porcine epidemic diarrhea, which emerged relatively recently) and avian infectious bronchitis virus (which affects chickens).
Now, cows are not humans. Dogs are not humans. But there are proven strategies for vaccinating against coronaviruses. We are not in uncharted territory here.