Why There Will Never Be a Vaccine for the Common Cold

Woman blowing her nose
Could we see a vaccine for the common cold?. Mehmed Zelkovic/Getty Images

Colds are the most common illness in the world. In the United States alone, it's estimated that people suffer from 1 billion colds per year. They affect us all. The average adult gets 2-4 colds per year and children average as many as 12! 

So if colds are so common and such a big problem, why haven't scientists come up with a way to prevent them yet? We have vaccines and medications for so many things, why not the common cold?

 

Why We Aren't There Yet

What it really comes down to is that the common cold isn't caused by just one virus. There at least 200 different viruses that can cause "the common cold" or other upper respiratory infections that cause the same symptoms. Because vaccines target specific viruses or bacteria, at this point, we have no way to create a vaccine that could prevent illness from so many viruses. 

Also factoring into the equation is the fact that colds are self-limiting, meaning they go away on their own. Typically within about a week. Although they are a nuisance and affect us all, they generally don't cause serious problems for people that impact their lives long-term. Research is costly and takes a long time, so those dollars and hours are better spent on creating vaccines and medications to treat and prevent illnesses that have a more serious impact on people's lives and health. 

Vaccines are extremely important.

They have drastically improved public health across the globe and indisputably have saved millions of lives. But there aren't many people who die from the common cold, so spending time and effort on a vaccine to prevent it just isn't as important as creating a vaccine that can prevent cancer, HIV, Ebola or any number of other serious diseases.

In healthcare, saving lives and improving quality of life long term is more important than working to try to eliminate what is essentially just a nuisance. 

Never? Really?

Perhaps never is too strong a word. Very few things in the field of medicine are absolute as we are always making new discoveries. However, as things stand now and for the foreseeable future, it's highly unlikely that we'll ever see a vaccine for the common cold or even a cure to treat it once we get it. It is possible that new technology will allow a vaccine to be created that will cover all of the viruses that cause the common cold in a single vaccine, but we aren't close to that at this point and the research time and money doesn't exist at this point either. 

So wash your hands and take other common sense precautions to prevent colds to keep yourself as healthy as possible. If you get a cold, take care of yourself and stay away from people that might not get over it as quickly or as easily as you do. 

Sources:

Simancas-Racines D1, Guerra CV, Hidalgo R. "Vaccines for the Common Cold." Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jun 12. PubMed. US National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. 29 Nov 15. 

"Common Cold." Medline Plus 15 Oct 15. US National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. 29 Nov 15. 

Continue Reading