When Coronavirus Research Was Transparent

Lady in doctor's uniform wearing mask in hospital

The following blog looks back over the two decades leading up to 2020 to see what was said about SARS, vaccines and coronaviruses.

Coronavirus illustration with blue proteins
How long have we really been living with COVID for? – Image by Syaibatul Hamdi from Pixabay

After the SARS outbreaks of 2002 and 2003, understandably, many scientists started researching SARS-COV1, writing papers, looking at vaccine design and evaluating the risks of further outbreaks. The SARS outbreak of 2002 was miniscule compared to COVID-19. According to Peter Hotez, MD, funding for research dried up in 2005, shown in this 2020 article here.

I really want to find out why coronavirus research stopped so soon after SARS-cov-1. The first paper I’m going to share stands out for me because of how transparent it is. Written in 2005 by Shibo Jiang, Yuxian He, and Shuwen Liu, called SARS Vaccine Development, it starts:

Quote: Developing effective and safe vaccines is urgently needed to prevent infection by severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)–associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV). The inactivated SARS-CoV vaccine may be the first one available for clinical use because it is easy to generate; however, safety is the main concern. End quote.

Strategies to roll out the vaccine would have been more without the constraints on public health from capitalism – Image by Frauke Riether from Pixabay

Recently, the UK government made the extraordinary claim that they did not know covid-19 could transmit asymptomatically. Use of the term “asymptomatic” transmission causes untold confusion and division, with Twitter trolls angrily stating “asymptomatic means healthy!” However, as far back as December 2003, the CDC’s MMWR says “In the clinical criteria, “early” illness replaces “asymptomatic” or “mild” illness.”

Why would Boris Johnson suggest that 20 minutes hand-washing was the best defence if he could avoid someone with symptoms, suggest they wear a mask correctly or ensure sick people stay at home on statutory sick pay?

With telecommunications, call centres, Internet connectivity and a huge workforce, could public information, the media and a telephone network not have provided everyone with the means to information about COVID-19, to work together to reduce transmission? It seems as if the UK government had been preparing for a pandemic with a simulation called Operation Cygnus in 2016. When the spread of SARS-COV2 was announced by the World Health Organisation in January 2020, what strategy was in place?

Small independent businesses such as pubs suffered during the Pandemic – Image by Peter Pruzina from Pixabay

If you search online, various articles appear, mostly written after the original SARS-cov-1 outbreak. Firstly, I’ll return to the article mentioned earlier called Sars Vaccine Development to pull some quotes.

Quote: The global outbreak of SARS seriously threatened public health and socioeconomic stability worldwide. Although this outbreak was eventually brought under control in 2003, several isolated outbreaks of SARS subsequently occurred because of accidental releases of the SARS-CoV isolates from laboratories in Taiwan, Singapore, and mainland China. End quote.

It is worth noting that, although this is in a medical journal, the WHO and CDC links both go to error pages. Why this is I don’t know. Would there not be archives for something like this? Would it not be explained that the links no longer worked for today’s reader?

The WHO page on SARS is now here. Disease outbreaks are found via a menu item lower down. The NIAID biodefense research webpage, mentioning SARS as a Category C pathogen is now here. The CDC’s MMWR information about SARS outbreaks can be found here.

Quote: In late 2003 and early 2004, new infections in persons who had contact with animals infected with SARS-CoV strains significantly different from those predominating in the 2002–2003 outbreak were reported in Guangdong, China (1). These events indicate that a SARS epidemic may recur at any time in the future, either by the virus escaping from laboratory samples or by SARS-CoV isolates evolving from SARS-CoV–like virus in animal hosts. End quote.

SARS Vaccine Development 2005. Was that a warning? Wouldn’t this possibility put people on red alert? I suggest you read on as there is plenty of information about the early evolution of SARS-cov-1, such as:

Quote: The SARS-CoV–like virus that exists in animals does not cause typical SARS-like disease in the natural hosts and is not transmitted from animals to humans. Under certain conditions, the virus may have evolved into the early human SARS-CoV, with the ability to be transmitted from animals to humans or even from humans to humans, resulting in localized outbreaks and mild human disease. Under selective pressure in humans, the early human SARS-CoV may further evolve into the late human SARS-CoV, which can cause local or even global outbreaks and typical SARS in humans with high death rates. End quote.

I’d like to know what certain conditions were and what under selective pressure in humans referred to. This table below appears shows findings about SARS-cov-1, which have never been put so clearly and simply since 2020. Link to the table here.

Screenshot 2023-01-11 at 11.42.34Screenshot 2023-01-11 at 11.42.51

Reasons given for vaccine development.

The worries seem to focus on two areas: accidental release or bioterrorism. See this:

Quote: SARS-CoV can be efficiently grown in cell culture (1) and rapidly spread from person to person (7). It can survive in feces and urine at room temperature for >2 days  and may cause serious, even fatal, disease. SARS-CoV, a National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Biodefense Category C priority pathogen could be used by bioterrorists as a biological weapon. Therefore, development of effective and safe vaccines is urgently needed to prevent a new SARS epidemic and for biodefense preparedness. Currently, 3 major classes of SARS vaccines are under development: 1) inactivated SARS-CoV (Figure 1), 2) full-length S protein (Figure 2A), and 3) those based on fragments containing neutralizing epitopes (Figure 2B). End quote.

Considering the COVID-19 pandemic, it is a little surprising these links are also broken, like the WHO and CDC ones in the earlier quote. http://www2.niaid.nih.gov/Biodefense/bandc_priority.htm and http://www.who.int/csr/sars/en I used Wayback Machine to see when and where they had disappeared. This one below can no longer be found.

Please note above the statement that SARS-cov can be efficiently grown in cell culture. This does not seem like the same coronavirus that came from civets, see the table above – so why is an animal origin so emphatically attributed 15 years later?

The article above then goes on to discuss 3 routes to vaccination, which is worth reading for background without drawing any firm conclusions as the picture I’m painting is in no way complete. The WHO’s SARS page was at the same URL until mid 2020.

Coronavirus Vaccine History – Back in 2004, SARS vaccine trial spotlights continued peril by Helen Pearson was published in the science press.

Quote: But public-health experts remain concerned that a second wave of infections could erupt, either from human contact with infected animals or by the virus escaping from laboratory samples. End quote.

Pearson, Helen SARS vaccine trial spotlights continued peril. Nature 2004.

Also in 2004, SARS vaccine trials were carried out on ferrets. SARS vaccine linked to liver damage in ferret study More from 2004: Animal coronavirus vaccines: lessons for SARS

Quote: Such immunity is often short-lived, requires frequent boosting and may not prevent re-infection, all factors complicating CoV vaccine design. End quote.

Saif LJ. Animal coronavirus vaccines: lessons for SARS. Dev Biol (Basel). 2004;119:129-40. PMID: 15742624.

Moving onto 2005: Vaccine design for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus by Yuxian He 1 Shibo Jiang in Viral Immunol.

Quote: Although the global outbreak of SARS has been contained, there are serious concerns over its re-emergence and bioterrorism potential. Several live attenuated, genetically engineered or vector vaccines encoding the SARS-CoV spike (S) protein have been in pre-clinical studies. End quote.

Vaccine design for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus by Yuxian He 1 Shibo Jiang in Viral Immunol. 2005.

The same article continues:

Quote: These vaccine candidates are effective in terms of eliciting protective immunity in the vaccinated animals. However, caution should be taken with the safety of whole virus or full-length S protein-based immunogens in humans because they may induce harmful immune or inflammatory responses. End quote.

Vaccine design for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus by Yuxian He 1 Shibo Jiang in Viral Immunol. 2005.

It is worth reading the above Vaccine Design article in full to see how many points you recognise about the platforms used and predicted responses in human beings. Nature pleads caution in 2005: Caution raised over SARS vaccine

Quote: A cautionary note has been sounded for those developing vaccines against severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Some vaccines could prove useless against certain strains, or even worsen the infection, a preliminary study suggests. End quote

PEARSON, Helen Caution raised over SARS vaccine. Nature 2005.

Therefore, by 2005, threats of bioterrorism has been mentioned, as have samples escaping from laboratories. Vaccines being ineffective against certain strains and worsening the infection.

By 2008 there had been human trials for a SARS Vaccine. 2008: A SARS DNA vaccine induces neutralizing antibody and cellular immune responses in healthy adults in a Phase I clinical trial

Quote: Based on serologic data from samples collected prior to the outbreak and retrospectively analyzed, up to 40% of individuals working in the animal trade were seropositive but had no history of illness [3], indicating that SARS may be either extremely mild or asymptomatic in some cases. End quote.

Martin, et al. A SARS DNA vaccine induces neutralizing antibody and cellular immune responses in healthy adults in a Phase I clinical trial. Vaccine. 2008.

Despite the claimed success of the above mentioned trial in 2008, research done on mice was still raising concerns about use in humans in 2012.

More warnings from 2012: Immunization with SARS Coronavirus Vaccines Leads to Pulmonary Immunopathology on Challenge with the SARS Virus. PLos One. 2005.

Quote: Because of a concern for reemergence or a deliberate release of the SARS coronavirus, vaccine development was initiated. End quote.

Tseng et al Because of a concern for reemergence or a deliberate release of the SARS coronavirus, vaccine development was initiated. PLos One 2012.

I realise that is quite a lot to read, without even following links. The point of this blog post or podcast is to start a discussion about what changed in 2005 to stop scientists, researchers and other practitioners preparing for a coronavirus outbreak, as vaccine research had started in the 60s and SARS was not the first coronavirus, it has now emerged, to cause a global pandemic. It is suspected that a bad flu in 1889-90 could in fact have been human coronavirus OC43, which killed 1 million people globally out of a population of 1.5billion.

Quote: Contemporary medical reports from Britain and Germany on patients suffering from a pandemic infection between 1889 and 1891, which was historically referred to as the Russian flu, share a number of characteristics with COVID-19. End quote.

Harald BrüssowLutz Brüssow 13 July 2021. Clinical evidence that the pandemic from 1889 to 1891 commonly called the Russian flu might have been an earlier coronavirus pandemic. Applied Microbiology International.

My conclusion is that transparency would be the best policy, funding scientists and researchers to carry out independent, unbiased studies on COVID-19, immunisations and treatments available to find the best solutions for the most people to end this pandemic.

Published by makingspace4life

Currently setting up a writing to service to provide press publicity, web content, innovative and memorable events, ghost-written trade magazine articles and UX consultancy to ensure new visitors can access and navigate your website with ease. Long term goal is to create a community interest company in Cornwall, which publishes well researched and tested apps to improve quality of life.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: