To Stop The Next Pandemic, Scientists Want To Vaccinate Animals With Viruses

By Caroline Seydel | Forbes | October 19, 2020

The virus that causes Covid-19 jumped to humans from animals, just like HIV, Ebola, and so many others before it. While scientists race to develop a safe and effective vaccine for the new disease, hundreds of thousands of people have already died. Some researchers are trying to head off the next pandemic by designing vaccines for the wild animals hosting these pathogens.

To deliver a vaccine to hundreds of thousands of wild animals, scientists are harnessing the infectious power of viruses to design transmissible vaccines. By making such vaccines from harmless viruses that can’t infect humans, researchers think they can inoculate wild populations safely and efficiently, and reduce the risk to humans from emerging infectious diseases.

Predicting which virus will cause the next pandemic is impossible, but a good place to start is targeting diseases that are already causing localized outbreaks in humans. In West Africa, Lassa fever kills thousands of people each year. Rats carry Lassa virus, and people catch the infection from exposure to rat droppings.

Fortunately, it doesn’t spread rapidly from person to person—but that could change.

“It’s a ticking time bomb,” said Scott Nuismer, a computational biologist at the University of Idaho.that could change.