An image has been circulating online with the misleading suggestion that scientists’ failure to make an effective vaccine for the common cold or flu means the COVID-19 vaccine cannot be believed.
The post says: “Science hasn’t managed in 80 years to produce a vaccine for the common cold (a coronavirus) or an effective vaccine against seasonal flu (a coronavirus) but have apparently managed to make a brilliant vaccine in 6 months against covid19 (a coronavirus). If you actually believe this, I wish you the best of luck for your future” (here).
The reasons why this comparison is misleading are outlined below.
Claim 1: “Science hasn’t managed in 80 years to produce a vaccine for the common cold (a coronavirus)”
It is incorrect to describe the common cold as a single coronavirus.
The common cold is defined by Harvard Medical School as: “an upper respiratory infection that is caused by several families of viruses” (here) .
These virus families include coronavirus, rhinovirus, parainfluenza virus, adenovirus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and metapneumovirus, according to the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (here) .
Within these virus families, more than 200 specific viruses can cause the common cold (here) .
Stanford Medicine adds that most colds are caused by rhinovirus infections, not coronaviruses (here) .
There are roughly 160 known types of rhinoviruses and they change (mutate) often, which helps to explain why getting one cold doesn't stop you from getting another (here) .
The existence of so many rapidly-changing viruses that cause cold symptoms has also prevented scientists from developing a vaccine for the common cold (here) .
Sebastian Johnston, Professor of Respiratory Medicine & Allergy at the National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London, told Reuters by email: “Only around 15% of common colds are caused by seasonal coronaviruses, and nobody has made a vaccine against them as it would not be economically viable.”
Claim 2: “Science hasn’t managed in 80 years to produce an effective vaccine against seasonal flu (a coronavirus)”
Seasonal flu is not caused by a coronavirus but by influenza viruses.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) explains that flu, also known as seasonal influenza, is caused by four types influenza viruses named A, B, C and D (here) .
The flu has similar symptoms to the common cold, but they can be more serious and lead to complications, according to the CDC (bit.ly/2UMVUhG) .
Scientists have managed to develop an effective vaccine for seasonal flu, but it needs to be renewed each year. This is because the body’s immune protection from vaccination declines over time and influenza viruses are constantly mutating, so new vaccines are needed annually to match the new strains (here, here and here) .
According to the CDC, the flu vaccine reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40% and 60%, depending on the individual characteristics of the vaccine recipient and the degree of match between the vaccine and the flu strain encountered here .
Claim 3: The lack of a vaccine for the common cold and flu means scientists cannot have made “a brilliant vaccine in 6 months against COVID-19 (a coronavirus)”
COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus, as defined by the WHO (here) .
Multiple vaccines for COVID-19 are under development. Scientists had to develop and test entirely new vaccines because COVID-19 is caused by a new coronavirus (here) .
There has been a huge global effort to accelerate clinical trials for vaccines to ensure they are developed quickly and safely. The WHO explains this process in detail on its website (here) .
False. The common cold is caused by several families of virus, the most common being rhinoviruses rather than coronaviruses. The seasonal flu is caused by the influenza virus, not a coronavirus. A vaccine does exist for the flu, but its effectiveness varies. No vaccine exists for the common cold. This does not mean a vaccine for the new coronavirus can not work.
This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here .
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.