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The following blog looks back over the two decades leading up to 2020 to see what was said about SARS, vaccines and coronaviruses.

In 2016, numerous celebrities died starting in December 2015 with Lemmy from Motorhead. Many were in their later years such as Terry Wogan. Some met tragic ends, such as Prince. Others were in their early 50s, such as George Michael who had been brought back from the brink in 2010 from a bout of severe pneumonia. As we are seeing with COVID, hospitals do not seem able to control the spread of viruses among those seeking medical help from other conditions.

Coronavirus illustration with blue proteins
How long have we really been living with COVID for? – Image by Syaibatul Hamdi from Pixabay

As a result of a Freedom Of Information Request, we saw earlier in the year that the death toll for COVID-19 without underlying conditions was 17,500. I do not know how this compares with flu, but the UK government have been accused in the medical press of exaggerating flu deaths to push more vaccines.

Therefore, the point of this blog is to explore SARS vaccine trials, which started in 2004 and must have informed research for a COVID-19 vaccine.

How did Neil Ferguson know by 16th March 2020 that a vaccine could be ready in 12-18 months, leading to lockdowns and social restrictions until the vaccines were ready? Why were the elimination strategies used so successfully in 2020 by countries such as Norway, Denmark, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea rejected out of hand by the UK government?

Strategies to roll out the vaccine would have been more without the constraints on public health from capitalism – Image by Frauke Riether from Pixabay

Recently, the UK government made the extraordinary claim that they did not know covid-19 could transmit asymptomatically. Why would Boris Johnson suggest that 20 minutes hand-washing was the best defence if you could simply avoid someone with symptoms or stay at home if you are ill?

With telephones, call centres, Internet Connectivity and a huge workforce, could public information, the media and a telephone network not have provided everyone with the means to prevent infection from COVID-19 and to work together to reduce transmission?

It seems as if the UK government had been preparing for a pandemic with a simulation called Operation Cygnus in 2016. When the spread of SARS-COV2 was announced by the World Health Organisation in January 2020, what strategy was in place?

Small independent businesses such as pubs suffered during the Pandemic – Image by Peter Pruzina from Pixabay

Coronavirus Vaccine History

Back in 2004, SARS vaccine trial spotlights continued peril by Helen Pearson was published in the science press.

But public-health experts remain concerned that a second wave of infections could erupt, either from human contact with infected animals or by the virus escaping from laboratory samples.

Pearson, Helen SARS vaccine trial spotlights continued peril. Nature 2004.

Also in 2004, SARS vaccine trials were carried out on ferrets. SARS vaccine linked to liver damage in ferret study

More from 2004: Animal coronavirus vaccines: lessons for SARS

Such immunity is often short-lived, requires frequent boosting and may not prevent re-infection, all factors complicating CoV vaccine design

Saif LJ. Animal coronavirus vaccines: lessons for SARS. Dev Biol (Basel). 2004;119:129-40. PMID: 15742624.

Moving onto 2005: Vaccine design for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus by Yuxian He  1 Shibo Jiang in Viral Immunol.

Although the global outbreak of SARS has been contained, there are serious concerns over its re-emergence and bioterrorism potential. Several live attenuated, genetically engineered or vector vaccines encoding the SARS-CoV spike (S) protein have been in pre-clinical studies.

Vaccine design for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus by Yuxian He  1 Shibo Jiang in Viral Immunol. 2005.

The same article continues:

These vaccine candidates are effective in terms of eliciting protective immunity in the vaccinated animals. However, caution should be taken with the safety of whole virus or full-length S protein-based immunogens in humans because they may induce harmful immune or inflammatory responses.

Vaccine design for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus by Yuxian He  1 Shibo Jiang in Viral Immunol. 2005.

It is worth reading the above Vaccine Design article in full to see how many points you recognise about the platforms used and predicted responses in human beings.

Nature pleads caution in 2005: Caution raised over SARS vaccine

A cautionary note has been sounded for those developing vaccines against severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Some vaccines could prove useless against certain strains, or even worsen the infection, a preliminary study suggests.

PEARSON, Helen Caution raised over SARS vaccine. Nature 2005.

Therefore, by 2005, threats of bioterrorism has been mentioned, as have samples escaping from laboratories. Vaccines being ineffective against certain strains and worsening the infection.

By 2008 there had been human trials for a SARS Vaccine.

2008: A SARS DNA vaccine induces neutralizing antibody and cellular immune responses in healthy adults in a Phase I clinical trial

Based on serologic data from samples collected prior to the outbreak and retrospectively analyzed, up to 40% of individuals working in the animal trade were seropositive but had no history of illness [3], indicating that SARS may be either extremely mild or asymptomatic in some cases

Martin, et al. A SARS DNA vaccine induces neutralizing antibody and cellular immune responses in healthy adults in a Phase I clinical trial. Vaccine. 2008.

Despite the claimed success of the above mentioned trial in 2008, research done on mice was still raising concerns about use in humans in 2012.

More warnings from 2012: Immunization with SARS Coronavirus Vaccines Leads to Pulmonary Immunopathology on Challenge with the SARS Virus. PLos One. 2005.

Because of a concern for reemergence or a deliberate release of the SARS coronavirus, vaccine development was initiated.

Tseng et al Because of a concern for reemergence or a deliberate release of the SARS coronavirus, vaccine development was initiated. PLos One 2012.

I realise that is quite a lot to read, without even following links. I am sure you can see the emerging picture:

  1. The risks to humans from coronavirus vaccines such as increased infection from variants, immune responses, inflammation
  2. Fears about SARS re-emergence such as bioterrorism, samples escaping from labs or humans contacting infected animals.
  3. The nature of SARS in people such as animal handlers, who were seropositive and had mild symptoms or asyptomatic infection.
  4. The range of vaccine platforms researched.

Many of these points have become quite familiar since 2020. The next blog will explore all the medical journal reports of “novel coronaviruses” since 2005, which were mostly suspected to come from wet markets in China, despite the various threats mentioned above.

My question is: how can a virus such as COVID-19 jump from an animal in late 2019 and be that successful in a human host, with many of the characteristics of SARS-cov1 and other new coronaviruses reported since 2005?

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