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Fact check: Comparing vaccine efforts for COVID-19 to influenza, RSV and cancer lacks context

Social media users have been sharing an image online that questions the possibility of creating a vaccine for COVID-19 in six months because there are no vaccines for influenza and RSV and no cures for cancer. This claim is partly false.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

Examples can be seen here and here .

The posts read: “Can’t make a vaccine that works for influenza. No vaccine for RSV. Can’t cure cancer. But they sure as heck can make a vaccine in 6 months for an illness that they still don’t understand. How’s that Kool-Aid taste.”

The claim assumes that finding a vaccine for COVID will be equally hard for scientists, but these viruses and diseases are all different in their makeup and paths for a cure.

INFLUENZA

While there is no single vaccine for the flu as there is for measles or mumps, the seasonal flu shot does provide care and prevention among the population.

Although the effectiveness can vary because of seasons, strains and who is being vaccinated, the influenza vaccine does work. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains on its website that vaccination “reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40% and 60% among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are well-matched to the flu vaccine.” ( here )

The influenza vaccination can prevent catching the flu, reduce flu-associated hospitalization and reduce severe illness. More information can be found here .

RSV

It is true that no vaccine exists for Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). Initial symptoms are like the common cold. Infants, premature babies, older adults and those with some chronic conditions or weakened immune systems are most at risk ( here ).

While a vaccine is not yet available, a medicine called palivizumab can be given in the form of shots during peak seasons to infants and young children at higher risk to protect them from the virus. Personal prevention methods are like those of the novel coronavirus ( here ).

CANCER

Cancer is not one single illness, there are more than 100 types of cancer and a variety of treatments available ( www.cancer.gov/types , here ). The American Cancer Society explains on its website that “Many cancers can be cured, but not all of them and not always”. ( here )

The statement in these claims lacks context for the different kinds of cancer that can be cured with various treatments. For example, the average 5-year survival rate for women diagnosed with non-invasive breast cancer is 91% ( here ). The death rate of women from breast cancer decreased by 40% between 1989 and 2007 due to early detection and treatment developments ( here ). In contrast, the 5-year survival rate for those with lung cancer is 19% ( here ).

COVID-19 VACCINE EFFORTS

The statement about a COVID-19 vaccine being developed in 6 months is inaccurate. As of this check’s publication in September 2020, it has been eight months since the first case of novel coronavirus was detected in the United States in January ( here ) and a COVID-19 vaccine is yet to have been approved in the U.S.

Vaccines announced by China and Russia over the summer have been met with caution and, at times, suspicion in the United States and Europe ( here , here , here ) Scientists casted doubt on their effectiveness because of their design based on viruses similar to the common cold ( here ).

Generally, the development and approval process for a vaccine is complicated and lengthy ( here ). According to Boston Children’s Hospital, the fastest vaccine to date was for mumps and took four years to be completed ( here )

A Reuters vaccine tracker for COVID-19 can be seen here .

According to the New York Times, as of Sept. 11, 2020, there are 38 vaccines being clinically tested on humans and at least 93 vaccines being tested on animals, with 3 vaccines “approved for early or limited use.” Their vaccine tracker can be found here .

VERDICT

Misleading. While there is indeed no vaccine for RSV, the seasonal flu shot provides some immunization for influenza and there is effective treatment for some of the many forms of cancer. It has been more than six months since COVID-19 appeared in the United States and no vaccine has been approved.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work  here  .         

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