Why Isn't There a Vaccine for the Common Cold?

Vaccines, or shots that help boost the immune system, are an important public health strategy that protect against damaging and deadly infections. Despite efforts to make a vaccine for the common cold, one has yet to be developed. 

Tips to Prevent Spreading a Cold.

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This article will explain the reasons why a cold vaccine has not yet been created, as well as why we may not need one. It will also explore what studies have found about cold vaccine development.

What Are the Challenges in Making a Cold Vaccine?

Vaccines target specific bacterial or viral germs that cause various illnesses. One of the difficulties in making a vaccine for the common cold is that there are at least 200 different viruses that can cause cold symptoms.

Rhinoviruses cause most common colds. However, there are about 160 different types of this particular virus that can lead to cold symptoms.

Vaccines are unable to protect against all possible types of the viruses that cause the common cold.

Do We Need a Vaccine for the Common Cold?

Each year, millions of people in the United States get the common cold. Adults may have about two colds a year, while children tend to have many more. 

While it may be frustrating to have a cold, it rarely leads to serious issues. They also tend to go away within a few days to weeks with simple treatment such as:

If colds do trigger more serious issues, they tend to be treatable, such as ear infections. Because vaccines are made to protect people against illnesses that could cause serious damage or death, creating a common cold vaccine may not be a high priority.

Vaccine research can also take a lot of resources, such as time and money. With this said, resources tend to go towards more serious illnesses, such as tetanus, whooping cough, and Covid-19.

Recap

The common cold tends not to be dangerous for the majority of people who get it. Because vaccines are aimed at preventing deadly infections, creating a cold vaccine may not be a high priority.

What Does Research Tell Us About Developing a Cold Vaccine?

Research on the development of a common cold vaccine is very limited. A study that compiled past and present research on the development of a rhinovirus vaccine noted that:

  • A rhinovirus vaccine could help those with lung issues, like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is an inflammatory lung disease.
  • It will be difficult to develop the vaccine because rhinovirus infects quickly and mutates, or changes quickly.
  • In clinical trials that tested a cold vaccine with just one strain, results showed that it was not protective.
  • In clinical trials that focused on a cold vaccine with 10 strains, results also found it to be ineffective.
  • If a cold vaccine does get developed, it will likely need to provide broad protection against many strains of rhinovirus.

In 2019, scientists identified a protein called SETD3 that interrupted the life cycle of rhinoviruses in human cells and live mice. This finding may impact the development of a cold vaccine or a broad-spectrum antiviral vaccine.

Summary

Cold vaccines are tricky to make because there are so many viruses that can cause cold symptoms.

Even though colds impact millions of people a year, they tend to go away on their own and don't typically cause serious issues in the majority of people infected. Because vaccines are meant to help protect people from deadly infections, spending time and money on one for the common cold may not be a priority.

While a cold vaccine would be especially helpful for those with lung-related issues, research thus far has not found an effective way to create this particular vaccine.

A Word From Verywell

Because a cold vaccine is not yet available, the best thing you can do is take standard precautions to keep yourself safe and as healthy as possible.

If you do get a cold, treat it appropriately and try to stay away from people, especially older individuals, infants, and those with severe asthma, who may not get over it as easily as you do.

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10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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