Polio vaccine could give temporary protection against COVID-19, scientists hope

June 11, 2020 / By Kaitlin Sullivan

As the world waits for a coronavirus vaccine, some scientists are proposing that existing vaccines could give the body’s immune system a much-needed temporary boost to stave off infection.

It’s still unclear whether such an approach would work, and some experts are skeptical. Others — including researchers in Israelthe Netherlands and Australia — are already investigating whether a tuberculosis vaccine could help jump-start the immune system and make COVID-19 less deadly, though the World Health Organization strongly advises against using that vaccine until it’s proven effective against the coronavirus.

In the U.S., several big names in virology — including Dr. Robert Gallo, one of the scientists who discovered HIV — are turning their attention to another existing vaccine, the oral poliovirus vaccine. It hasn’t been licensed or available in the U.S. since 2000, but is still used in other countries where poliovirus still circulates, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Polio was eradicated in the U.S. in 1979.)

In a perspective piece published Thursday in the journal Science, Gallo and other experts from the Baltimore-based Global Virus Network outline why this particular polio vaccine might hold potential — and why the group is seeking funding and approval to start clinical trials to test their hypothesis.

The polio vaccine in question is a live vaccine — meaning it uses a weakened form of the live virus.


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