The Centers for Disease Control issued new guidelines this past Thursday that essentially dropped its recommendations for mask use in most indoor and outdoor settings for Americans who are fully vaccinated. Twenty-five states still have mask mandates in place, but experts suggest that by summer those restrictions could be eased if more people get vaccinated.
Across the country, many Americans are still holding off on getting a coronavirus vaccine, but there could be another reason to get one. In addition to helping keep a person safe from the virus, which has killed more than 584,000 Americans, the vaccine might reduce the likelihood of contracting other illnesses including the common cold.
More importantly, the vaccines could help prevent another pandemic.
A new study by Johns Hopkins Medicine found that CD4+ T lymphocytes, the immune system cells are also known as helper T cells, produced by people who have received the vaccines for the coronavirus could help those individuals fend off other SARS-CoV-2 variants, including those that cause the common winter cold.
“We identified twenty-three distinct T cell-targeted peptides, of which only four appear affected by the mutations that created the variant coronaviruses first seen in the United Kingdom and South Africa,” Joel Blankson, a professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and one of the study’s senior authors, said. “That means the other 19 peptides are the same in the original SARS-CoV-2 and the newer strains, so the mRNA vaccines should induce T cells that respond well to the variants.”
Further studies are needed to determine what this could mean for fighting the cold, but Blankson added, “We suspect that HCoV-NL63 may have more epitopes [peptides that elicit an immune response] in common with SARS-CoV-2 than the other common cold coronaviruses.”
That would seem to contradict the old saying/belief “there is no cure for the common cold.”
Technically that remains true. A coronavirus vaccine wouldn’t actually “cure” the cold, but instead, the vaccine that is meant to protect people from a coronavirus, including SARS-CoV-2 and its variants, could fend off the cold.
Why wasn’t this done years ago?
Several factors actually come into play. Vaccine makers didn’t really focus on coronaviruses because the family of viruses appeared to cause only mild colds, but that began to change in 2002 when the SARS-CoV emerged and caused the potentially fatal pneumonia that became known as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). When a second coronavirus, MERS-CoV, emerged in 2012—becoming known as MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome)—researchers began to develop a pancoronavirus vaccine.
However, efforts slowed because SARS and MERS caused comparatively few deaths compared to far more serious viruses including Eloba and Zika. Even before the pandemic began last year, many different researchers had been working on vaccines that could stop future outbreaks. In 2017, one team of researchers submitted a grant application to develop a vaccine aimed at addressing all coronaviruses—but grant reviewers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) gave the proposal a low priority score despite calling the plan "outstanding."
What changed this time was the third coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which emerged in 2019 and triggered the coronavirus pandemic. It actually had a lower fatality rate than the previous coronaviruses but it was able to more easily spread from person to person and lead to millions of infections around the world.
The threat level has reached a level that it isn’t just researchers that see the need for such a universal vaccine. Moreover, it isn’t just humans that are at risk. “The threat of another coronavirus pandemic now seems very real. Beyond bats, coronaviruses infect camels, birds, cats, horses, mink, pigs, rabbits, pangolins, and other animals from which they could jump into human populations with little to no immunity, as most researchers suspect SARS-CoV-2 did,” Science magazine warned.
There is the likelihood that the world could see another outbreak—possibly even pandemic level—within the next ten to fifty years, and that has worried health officials around the world.
Now that the efforts to stop such outbreaks are being taken seriously it could eventually lead to colds being a thing of the past as well.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.