A way to end the pandemic

Could infecting people with the four or so coronaviruses that cause the common cold protect them against the new coronavirus causing the pandemic?   The official name for the new virus is SARS-CoV-2, the name for the disease is COVID-19.

“According to Marie-Louise Landry, MD, an infectious disease expert at Yale Medical School and the Director of the Yale Clinical Virology Laboratory, four common human coronaviruses cause 15-30% of common colds”


Now ask yourself how she could make a statement like this.  I’m going to try to get in touch with her tomorrow, but it is very likely that these cold causing coronaviruses are detected by measuring antibodies to them, carried in the blood of people who have been infected by them in the past.

Could one coronavirus (even a benign one) give partial immunity to others?  It’s possible and it’s time to find out.  We could know  in a few weeks.

Assume the test to measure the antibodies to cold coronaviruses exists.  Then measure them in our real, honest to God, modern day heroes on the front lines  — the nurses, docs, EMTs, orderlies, housekeeping, cops, etc. etc.  who are exposed every day to COVID-19.

Every hospital in the country could at least draw blood on them, look to see if antibodies are present and wait.   I doubt that many would refuse the test.

Sadly, it wouldn’t be long before some of them became infected with SARS-CoV-2.  Then investigators couldlook to see if those with the antibodies to the cold causing coronaviruses were protected.

If so, then make a cocktail of the 4 or so coronaviruses and give it to everyone.   It would be Edward Jenner and the cowpox all over again — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Jenner

Even if the protection was only partial, decreasing the number of susceptible individuals would be enough to slow the pandemic and possibly even stop it.

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  • Daniel Newby  On April 6, 2020 at 12:39 pm

    Why wait for cowpox to come along? Breed the virus to produce a live attenuated vaccine. Infect a bunch of people. Then infect more people from the ones who didn’t feel bad. Repeat until you have a benign virus.

    • luysii  On April 6, 2020 at 2:15 pm

      Certainly a classic immunologic gambit. But it takes a long time and a lot of people to know if such an attenuated virus is even protective. The advantage of the wait and watch what happens approach is that you’d know that it was protective before starting.

  • Peter Shenkin  On April 6, 2020 at 1:12 pm

    Umm, I have never heard of anyone developing immunity to a common cold. I have one perpetually — until the warm season; then I have allergies. Unless my nemesis consists solely of rhinovirus, I have to be suspicious of the anzatz that common-cold coronaviruses might confer immunity to COVID-19. They don’t even confer immunity to the common cold which they themselves cause.

  • Peter Shenkin  On April 6, 2020 at 1:13 pm

    I shoulda said, “don’t even SEEM TO confer immunity to the common cold…”

  • Mark Thorson  On April 7, 2020 at 1:52 pm

    I can’t see what’s in the Wikipedia piece, but Jenner’s vaccine was not cowpox. Studies of the Vaccinia virus show it is not cowpox. Among the known pox virii, it is mostly closely related to horsepox but it is not horsepox. We don’t know where it came from. It’s possible that the virus itself has gone extinct in the wild, or that its natural host has gone extinct. More likely, we just haven’t found the natural vector. It might be a badger or something whose diseases aren’t well-studied. But it’s definitely not cowpox.

  • loupgarous  On April 18, 2020 at 12:32 am

    Not afraid of a dengue fever-type antibody-dependent enhancement problem?

  • luysii  On April 18, 2020 at 10:24 am

    Loupgarous: I’m not worried about this with the coronaviruses causing colds. People are worried about immune enhancement with vaccine development for dengue, SARS and RSV and now SARS-CoV-2 [ Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. vol. 1176 pp. 8218 – 8221 ’20 ]. Immune enhancement definitely happens with clinical dengue (http://www.denguevirusnet.com/antibody-dependent-enhancement.html).

    Why no worries? Because we’ve all had colds, lots of them, probably multiple ones with coronaviruses and no one has seen immune enhancement with colds (of any type). Naturally occurring cold causing coronaviruses are what I’d use if the experiment described in the post showed protection.

    However, it is possible that such has happening with coronavirus caused colds, and we’ve been misdiagnosing it as influenza (which does kill a lot of people every year). This seems pretty remote.

    Thanks for commenting. I really hadn’t considered this.

  • Mark Thorson  On April 18, 2020 at 9:26 pm

    New study suggests the SARS-CoV-2 was in dogs before making the jump to humans. Maybe a canine coronavirus would offer a better chance of immunity.


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