While the common cold is a broad disease, is it possible to get vaccinated? Is it possible at least in some future, or is it even in theory not possible?


1 Answer 1


The problem with treating "the common cold" is that it's really a large collection of similar illnesses caused by completely different strains of virus. The effects are similar, but the causes are different. Any treatment for one type would likely be ineffective against many of the others.

Here are some stats from a Business Insider article:

  • A "cold" can be caused by over 200 different viruses.
  • 20-30 types of rhinovirus - the most common class of culprit - can be in a given area in a certain period.
  • It's likely that a different set of viruses will be in that area the next year, meaning people would need to be vaccinated annually, at the least.
  • It's impossible to predict what strains will pop up next.

To have a completely effective vaccine, you'd need to have as many strains as possible in either a single vaccine or a series of them, and that's simply not easy. It could be impossible.

That said, there are ongoing efforts, as always. A couple different paths have been taken; I've given an example for each.

The brute force approach

One technique is to simply stuff as many strains into a vaccine as possible. An attempt I've seen mentioned quite a lot is Lee et al. (2016). They tested a vaccine on macaques (monkeys, not too different from humans) and found that certain antibodies were produced in response to types of human rhinovirus. They attempted to use 50 strains at once in the vaccine, which is quite impressive, and got good results for 49 out of those 50.

The alarm approach1

There have also been other attempts in recent years. One group went on a different path, using a specific protein found when viruses invade cells as a vaccination in mice. This has the advantage that it can be used to train the immune system against many different strains; one protein can serve as a vaccine against dozens of types of viruses.

The cell sacrifice approach

A few years back, a group at MIT (Rider et al. (2011)) developed a technique called Double-stranded RNA [dsRNA] Activated Caspase Oligomerizer (DRACO). DRACO essentially gets infected cells to shut themselves down - killing themselves - to stop the infection from spreading. After all, viruses need cells to reproduce. So far, DRACO has worked in mice, defeating over a dozen types of viruses.

All of these approaches need testing! Human subjects have not yet been used; the closest any have gotten have been macaques, as well as isolated human cells. Additionally, no treatment has been tested against more than a fraction of rhinoviruses and other strains. There's absolutely no guarantee that any of this will work, but it's certainly steps in the right direction.

1 I've taken this from the "home invasion alarm" analogy used in this explanatory article.

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