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Larry Anderson, M.D., chief of the Respiratory and Enteric Virus Branch at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We learned from SARS that global interaction and the rapid exchange of information are very important for containing and controlling emerging diseases,” Anderson says.
Only time will tell whether or not SARS will continue to be a pandemic threat. Denison suggests that awareness should be maintained for at least five years, maybe even 10 or more. In the meantime, funding has flooded into coronavirus research and the search is on for earlier diagnostic tools, treatments and vaccines.
Why invest in treatment and vaccine development if the SARS threat is uncertain? “It’s about what we don’t know, not what we do know,” Denison says. “We don’t know if SARS will reemerge as a more severe disease. It’s too early to say.”
Current attempts to develop a SARS vaccine are pursuing multiple vaccine types (see “A Vaccine Primer”). These include a live, attenuated virus, an inactivated virus, purified viral proteins such as the spike protein, and recombinant virus vectors harboring one of the SARS proteins.
Denison and colleagues favor the live, attenuated virus approach based on the history of coronavirus vaccines in animals. Among multiple approaches that have been tried in different animal species, live, attenuated vaccines have been the most effective at generating a protective immune response in animal models. But because the virus is still capable of infecting cells, it can have undesired effects, among them reversion to a virulent strain or recombination with other viruses to make a new virus of unknown disease-causing capacity.