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  • Writer's picturepeter grose

An awful thought

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

This is one of those keep-you-awake-at-night thoughts. We are all waiting anxiously for the announcement of a vaccine or a treatment drug for Covid-19, right? And until we have one or both, it's unsafe to drop our guard and whip off the face masks, end social distancing and open the bars, theatres, stadiums, churches, football grounds and restaurants, right? But those clever scientists are bound to come up with either a vaccine or a cure, or both, pretty soon, right?

If you believe the last point, I'm afraid science and history are not on your side. The most prevalent viral disease in the world is the common cold. While the most frequent cause of the common cold is a rhinovirus rather than a coronavirus, no fewer than four coronaviruses cause between 20% and 30% of common colds. Covid-19 is exclusively caused by a member of the coronavirus family.

Now people have been looking for a cure for the common cold, and a vaccine to prevent it, for more than a century. So far ... zilch. So what are the chances of solving the Covid-19 problem quickly, when the same problem has defeated the best researchers and the biggest drug companies for over 100 years? While we are waiting for an answer, my strong advice to you is: don't hold your breath.

Meanwhile I am indebted to my brother Doug, who is both a doctor and a scientist, with degrees in both to prove it, for the following insight: "Developing a vaccine has proved impossible so far for two very important diseases. The first is malaria which still kills thousands if not millions of people every year. The second is AIDS which has had billions of dollars, euros etc thrown at it with no effect. I am a pessimist that a vaccine will be developed for Covid-19 but I have no expertise in how you develop one. I would point out that SARS (2002-2003) is a Coronavirus that has no effective vaccine. Some SARS vaccines proved quite toxic. SARS seems to have spontaneously disappeared. Maybe Covid-19 will do the same. ."

12 July update. I'm afraid this is a paraphrase: I couldn't find the original article, but I read it in an American online news source some time in the last week or so. However brother Doug, author of the preceding paragraph, reacted when I sent it to him by saying: "Could not have put it better myself." Trump has promised a Covid-19 vaccine by early 2021 at the latest, which is taken to mean January or February 2021. A journalist was interviewing a contagious disease expert who said something like: “What we are doing here is trying to develop a new vaccine for a new disease and the vaccine will have to work in a new way. After we have developed the vaccine it will need to be tested over several months. Then it will have to be manufactured in huge quantities, and it will have to be distributed to people who will have to be trained to administer it. And we’re going to do all this by early next year. What could possibly go wrong?”

21 September update. The mumps virus was first isolated in 1945. Four years later, in 1948, the first vaccine had been developed. This remains to this day the fastest development in history of an effective anti-virus vaccine. Then a better vaccine was developed by Maurice Hillman after his 5-year-old daughter Jeryl caught mumps. On 30 March 1967 Hillman's new vaccine was first approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. Ten years flashed by, and in 1977 the new vaccine was recommended for routine use.

On that happy note: wear a mask whenever you leave home, wash your hands regularly, don't get too close to strangers, and sleep well!

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