Via The Globe and Mail, a Reuters report: Saudis’ push for MERS vaccine has ‘enormous problems,’ virologists say. Excerpt:
Official talk in Saudi Arabia of racing to develop a vaccine against a deadly new virus may be a way to reassure a fearful population, but it is scientifically wide of the mark and makes little sense in public health terms.
Experts in virology say the biochemical know-how is there to create a vaccine against Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, but question why authorities would want to spend millions immunizing an entire population against a disease that has affected only a few hundred people.
Far better for public health, they say, would be to pin down the source of the infection – likely to be among animals, possibly camels or bats – and devise a strategy to halt the virus there.
“There are enormous problems with the idea of a MERS vaccine,” said Ian Jones, a virologist at Britain’s Reading University who has been following the outbreak from the start.
“I can see it works as an appeasement – that they want to say they can make it – and biochemically of course they could, but practically it doesn’t make any sense.
“Who would you vaccinate? Would you vaccinate the whole population when only a tiny number of people seem to be susceptible?”
Amid heightened anxieties, Saudi authorities say they have invited five leading international vaccine makers to collaborate with them in developing a MERS vaccine.
Giving no names or details, they said the companies were from North America and Europe and some would visit soon to discuss how to go about developing an affordable MERS shot.
But with worldwide cases of the respiratory infection still only in the hundreds, and deaths not yet into three figures, scientists are skeptical about why Saudi officials would want to focus on a vaccine – except for political reasons.
“I question whether there would really be any interest from vaccine companies to develop a human vaccine at this stage,” said Bart Haagmans, a virus expert at the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
“That’s what we know already from many other viral infections where there are only a very limited number of people affected. It’s common sense and general knowledge, I’d say.”