Covid-19 can cause serious illness or death, and it can take survivors a very long time to recover, and even then it is unsure if recovery will be complete. The policies put in place to curb the spread of this disease are having a serious negative economic impact.

Currently (august 2020) there is no safe vaccine available against covid-19, yet. When a vaccine becomes available, it will not be available to everyone immediately. And it is doubtful it will become available to the poorest people at all, after all polio still exists and that vaccine is cheap because it was never patented.

Given the all of the above, why has inoculation not been proposed as an timely and cheap alternative?

In vaccination usually a part of an inactive virus is given to a person, and that person immune system reacts in a way that will protect that person against a real infection. In inoculation the real virus is given. The drawbacks are immediately clear:

  • the subject can get really ill and/or die
  • the subject can infect others

But the risks can be mitigated in several ways. The first option would be by using a less dangerous virus: people exposed to Corona viruses that cause the common cold may have acquired immunity against covid-19.

An alternative would be to administer the virus in a less harmful way, as was done for variola (smallpox). The virus was rubbed in a small scratch on the hand which would activate the immune system but greatly lower the risk of a full blown illness, as compared to inhaling viral particles.

Finally, another alternative would be to expose people to only a very small amount of virus. For influenza the severity of symptoms seems to be influenced by the amount of virus a subject was exposed to. This could be happening in the general population, if everyone is distancing people may be breathing in a few virus particles from someone infected. Like with immunity from earlier common-cold-corona infections this could explain why some people barely get ill from covid-19.

Especially the first option, infecting people with a relatively harmless virus, seems worth a try. Why is this not being tested?

  • Who says it isn't being tested? The first steps are things like the paper you linked to suggesting that other coronaviruses might provide some immunity; these data are still far too preliminary, however, and don't suggest that such inoculation would provide anything like the necessary level of immunity to protect a population. Also: why do you think it would be cheaper to expose people to another strain of coronavirus than it would be to give a vaccine? Aug 15 '20 at 0:20
  • 2
    Interesting question, but your title is a much better question than your last sentence. Instead of asking why it's not being tried -- which calls for opinion and therefore could lead to closure -- maybe ask how it would be tested.
    – Carey Gregory
    Aug 15 '20 at 4:58
  • @CareyGregory My implicit assumption is that there are valid reasons why this is not done, that i am not aware of (being a computer programmer, not a doctor.)
    – Ivana
    Aug 15 '20 at 12:12
  • @BryanKrause In case there is an reasonably cheap test for cold-covid, people could just make a pact that when someone has a it, the community lines up and shakes hands and hugs that person. There are risks, if someone has asymptomatic covid, but overall it may be worth it.
    – Ivana
    Aug 15 '20 at 12:16
  • 1
    @Ivana It's not being tested because it will kill a certain percentage of the people who test it, particularly the elderly and those with comorbidities. And since we don't even know if having the disease confers immunity, that may mean killing people for no benefit. So testing such an approach would be unethical and could lead to an increased case load.
    – Carey Gregory
    Aug 15 '20 at 15:33

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.