Self-Spreading Animal Vaccines Could Combat Human Pandemics

By Molly Glick | Discover Magazine | Jun 4, 2021 10:00 AM

We already have technology that allows wildlife to pass vaccines among themselves, and developing methods may speed up the process. But critics claim that they risk human infections and criminal misuse.

(Credit: Martin Janca/Shutterstock)

It would probably earn you a few nasty looks if you sent an uncovered sneeze or cough toward a fellow commuter, potentially passing on a cold or the common flu. Within certain animal populations, however, researchers hope that species get nice and cozy in order to pass on specific viruses. These aren’t just any viruses, though: They’re engineered to act as pathogen-fighting vaccines that can jump between individual animals. In the future, they could prove helpful in fending off human pandemics by extinguishing viruses in the wild — before they can reach us.