In what one hopes is not a case of art accurately anticipating the future, Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 pandemic thriller `Contagion’ showed what might happen if a bat-borne virus (dubbed MEV-1 in the movie) jumped species and sparked a human pandemic.
In my review of the movie (see Why You Should Catch `Contagion’) I praised it for a realistic portrayal (with some dramatic license) of how the CDC would tackle an outbreak of a novel zoonotic virus, but found one area where the film seriously stretched credulity.
The biggest quibble for me . . . was the speed with which a vaccine is developed, manufactured, and starts to be delivered.
While the novel coronavirus is not SARS (much less the fictional MEV-1), it belongs to the same family of pathogens, and the problems inherent with creating a SARS vaccine likely apply to it as well.
The 2003 SARS epidemic was eventually contained, but the World Health Organization has continued to urge research into, and the development of, a SARS vaccine.
Results, to date, have not been encouraging.
In 2004 it was widely reported that China had developed, and administered a SARS vaccine to 36 volunteers, and again in 2009, China once again announced they were working on a new SARS vaccine.
But so far, no viable (safe and effective) vaccine appears to have been developed.
In 2012, a PLoS One research article found that mice vaccinated with four different experimental SARS candidate vaccines developed the expected antibodies, but experienced lung damage when challenged with the virus.
Immunization with SARS Coronavirus Vaccines Leads to Pulmonary Immunopathology on Challenge with the SARS Virus
Chien-Te Tseng, Elena Sbrana, Naoko Iwata-Yoshikawa, Patrick C. Newman, Tania Garron, Robert L. Atmar, Clarence J. Peters, Robert B. Couch
These SARS-CoV vaccines all induced antibody and protection against infection with SARS-CoV. However, challenge of mice given any of the vaccines led to occurrence of Th2-type immunopathology suggesting hypersensitivity to SARS-CoV components was induced. Caution in proceeding to application of a SARS-CoV vaccine in humans is indicated.
Last year, recognizing that a crucial gap exists in our pandemic response, the NIH agreed to fund SARS vaccine research over the next five years at Baylor College.
Baylor College of Medicine receives over $6 million from NIH to develop SARS vaccine
HOUSTON -- (May 22, 2012) -- Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine will receive up to $6.2 million over five years from the National Institute Of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, to develop a vaccine for severe acute respiratory syndrome, commonly called SARS.
While a novel pandemic influenza vaccine could probably be developed and produced (in limited quantities) within six months, we are likely still years away from having a safe, effective, and deployable vaccine against SARS – or any other novel coronavirus.
While we might get lucky and see a breakthrough, as did the CDC’s vaccine researchers in Contagion, those kinds of breaks can only be counted on to happen in the movies.
For more on the challenges of developing a coronavirus vaccine, ABC News has a report today called:
SARS-Like Virus Vaccine Unlikely, Experts Say
By KATIE MOISSE (@katiemoisse)
May 14, 2013
A virus similar to SARS has spread through hospitals in Europe and the Middle East, prompting fears of human-to-human transmission.
But health officials said vaccines were unlikely to play a role in controlling the outbreak, which has sickened 34 people and killed 18.
Instead, they've focused on detecting the novel coronavirus, dubbed nCoV, and have quickly isolated patients.
For more on the development of a SARS vaccine, you may wish to visit the 2009 MEDSCAPE Expert Review of Vaccines called:
SARS vaccines: where are we?