The Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome has been affecting animals since its outbreak in 2014 and in some cases it can even spread to humans through its Coronavirus mutation. Fortunately, a recently discovered MERS vaccine for camels might lead to human vaccines as well, meaning that the disease will eventually be completely quelled.
Because the current lack of a remedy for MERS, the disease took the life of over 500 people over the past couple of years, specifically targeting those suffering from life-threatening diseases like diabetes or lung disease. Even though its lethality is relatively low, as well as its spread, an outbreak of MERS becomes increasingly probable due to the ease in which people can contract it while in the vicinity of camels or dromedaries.
When talking about the animal side of infections, 50% of the camel population carries the MERS virus, leading to problems located in the upper respiratory system. The highest density of infected subjects, animals and humans as well, is in the Arabian Peninsula, most likely due to the spread of camels. These animals are used for racing, milk production and as a source of meat.
The vaccine in question was administered to four camels while four other subjects received a placebo. After the MERS virus was injected, the vaccinated camels did not produce any symptoms related to the disease, even though the virus was still present in their system. This was achieved through the use of a mutated strain of poxvirus.
The type of vaccine created was also used in the eradication on the disease known as smallpox. By injecting the poxvirus with a spike protein from the MERS virus, it creates a killer cell. This cell specifically targets infected cells inside the patient’s system, destroying them before the virus gets released.
Besides the production of these killer cells, the vaccine also produces a large amount of antibodies, leading to the extensive limitation and even complete annihilation of the virus. The MVA, the name of the poxvirus used for the vaccine, is being researched at the moment in order to see its viability against other diseases such as Ebola, hepatitis C and influenza.
The added benefit of this vaccine towards camels is its possible use for combating camelpox, a strain of smallpox that has a higher degree of lethality when compared to MERS. But it is worth noting that this type of vaccination does not stop the infection, it simply lowers the number of virus cells present in the system at any given time. Further research has to be made in order to find a proper cure that limits the infection rate as well.
Even if the MERS vaccine for camels might lead to human vaccines as well, this alleged application still exists only as a theory. By expanding the research, as well as increasing the number of studies conducted on said subject, this type of MVA vaccine might one day become a universal vaccine that targets all diseases in order to effectively eradicate them. At least at this point, camels face a reduced threat when subjected to the MERS virus, a fact that also leads to a decrease in infected human subjects as well.