Smallpox Vaccine Has Lessons for COVID Vaccine

By Robert Preidt
HealthDay reporter

TUESDAY, July 21, 2020 (HealthDay News) – Scientists who identified the first strains of smallpox used to create vaccines against the disease say this type of genetic research could help efforts to develop a vaccine against the novel coronavirus.

Smallpox was one of the most dangerous viral diseases in human history, killing around three in ten people infected. Many of those who survived were disabled, blind or disfigured.

The first vaccines eventually led to the declaration of smallpox eradication 40 years ago as part of the most successful vaccination program ever attempted. The campaign’s success and new genetic discoveries about early strains used to create vaccines underscore the value of vaccination, study authors published online July 20 in the journal Genome biology.

“Understanding the history, evolution, and ways in which these viruses can function as vaccines is extremely important in contemporary times,” said Hendrik Poinar, study co-author and evolutionary geneticist, director of the Ancient DNA Center at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. , Canada.

“This work emphasizes the importance of examining the diversity of these vaccine strains discovered in nature. We don’t know how many could provide cross-protection against a wide range of viruses, such as influenza or coronaviruses,” Poinar said. , senior researcher at the university’s Infectious Disease Research Institute.

In this study, researchers reconstructed and analyzed the genomes of smallpox virus fragments recovered from vaccination kits used during the Civil War era. They were able to do this without damaging the artifacts.

Principal Investigator Ana Duggan is a former postdoctoral student in the Department of Anthropology at McMaster, now working at the Public Health Agency of Canada. “Immunization is a wonderful process with a rich medical history that we should celebrate,” she said in a college press release.

“Medical museums are incredible repositories of our past and our collective history. The new tools we are developing in this work allow us to begin to study how medical sources, procedures and techniques have changed over time,” Duggan added.

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SOURCE: McMaster University, press release, July 19, 2020

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