Could There Finally Be a Vaccine for the Common Cold?


While the common cold has vexed humans for ages, it appears that good things come to those who wait – an Austrian scientist from the Medical University of Vienna has filed a patent for a common cold vaccine.

Should this vaccine become a reality, the common cold may go the way of other common health scourges caused by viruses, such as polio and measles.

Credit: William Brawley/Flickr, CC BY-2.0

But don’t throw out your cold medicine just yet. The research team, led by Dr. Rudolf Valenta, the head of the division of Immunopathology at the Medical University of Vienna, cautions that a vaccine is nearly a decade away – that is, even if everything goes right.

The common cold, which is actually a term representing more than 200 distinct viruses, is notoriously difficult to treat because of the substantial variety of strains. Rhinovirus is the most common type of cold virus, accounting for up to 40% of all illnesses. The common cold results in more trips to the doctor’s office than any other condition.

How the Vaccine Will Take Shape

Valenta and colleagues are taking an innovative approach to their fight against the common cold in the hope that they can vanquish the many strains of the infection by latching on to a similar property among each strain.

The researchers’ approach for the vaccine targets the shell of the cold virus, which is different than how the body normally responds. Typically, when a person is infected with the common cold virus, the body’s immune system attacks the center of the virus.

By targeting the virus’s shell, Valenta believes the vaccine can prevent the cold virus from attaching to the body’s mucous membranes, which results in the familiar symptoms of runny nose, sneezing and coughing.

Related: Try These 5 Natural Cough Remedies

“We’ve taken pieces of the rhinovirus shell, the right pieces, and attached it to a carrier protein,” Valenta told The Independent. “It’s a very old principle, to refocus the antibody response.”

Microscopic view of coronavirus.

Focusing on the virus’s shell also means that the specific type of cold virus – whether rhinovirus or coronavirus, for example – doesn’t really matter. The vaccine could hone in on virus shells regardless of the differences in the inner makeup of the virus.

Valenta also said that if the necessary funding comes in, the vaccine “could be done between six to eight years. We know how to build the vaccines and get it to the clinic. This is really in reach.”

Related: Study Finds No Link Between Flu Vaccine and Autism

In the meantime, if you want to avoid the cold, you can consider adopting the six-foot rule. Research shows that respiratory droplets containing a virus can travel up to six feet when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Of course, maintaining six feet of separation may appear impolite; in that case, you can become an avid hand-washer, avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, and generally stay away from sick people. If you do catch a cold, you can try an old English recipe involving linseed, raisins, licorice and rum to help ease the symptoms.