Why Isn't There a Vaccine for the Common Cold?

Vaccines that help boost the immune system are an important public health strategy that protects against infections. Despite efforts to make a vaccine for the common cold, one has yet to be developed. 

Tips to Prevent Spreading a Cold.

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This article will explain some reasons why a cold vaccine has not yet been created, as well as why we may not need one. It will also explore what studies have found about cold vaccine development.

What Are the Challenges in Making a Cold Vaccine?

There are challenges when it comes to finding a vaccine that protects against the common cold.

Vaccines target specific bacterial or viral germs that cause various illnesses. One of the difficulties in making a vaccine for the common cold is that there are at least 200 different viruses that can cause cold symptoms.

Rhinoviruses are the viruses that cause most common colds. And, there are about 160 different types of this particular virus that can lead to cold symptoms.

Vaccines are typically somewhat specific, so one vaccine wouldn't be able to protect against all possible types of viruses that cause the common cold.

Another challenge with making a vaccine that protects from the common cold is that common viruses often mutate—this can mean that vaccines could be ineffective against new variants.

Do We Need a Vaccine for the Common Cold?

Each year, millions of people in the United States get the common cold. Adults may have about two colds a year, while children tend to have more. 

While it may be frustrating to have a cold, it rarely leads to serious issues. They tend to go away within seven to 10 days.

Simple treatments can help relieve symptoms:

If a cold triggers more serious issues, they tend to be treatable, such as ear infections.

Vaccines are often made to protect people against illnesses that could cause serious damage or death. Vaccine research can take a lot of resources, such as time and money. With this said, resources tend to go towards more serious illnesses, such as tetanus, whooping cough, and Covid-19.

The common cold tends not to be dangerous for the majority of people who get it.

However, preventing the common cold is important. A vaccine that protects from the common could help those with lung issues, like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). People who have these lung conditions can have more severe symptoms when they develop a cold. And people who have immune problems, due to HIV infection or cancer treatment, for example, can develop a more severe illness when they get a cold.

While there are challenges to developing a vaccine against the common cold, these challenges might not be insurmountable.

What Does Research Tell Us About Developing a Cold Vaccine?

Research on the development of a common cold vaccine suggests that a vaccine for the common cold is not likely in the near future.

A study that compiled past and present research on the development of a rhinovirus vaccine noted that:

  • It will be difficult to develop the vaccine because rhinovirus infects quickly and mutates, or changes quickly.
  • In clinical trials that tested a cold vaccine with just one strain, results showed that it was not protective.
  • In clinical trials that focused on a cold vaccine with 10 strains, results also found it to be ineffective.
  • If a cold vaccine does get developed, it will likely need to provide broad protection against many strains of rhinovirus.

Despite these challenges, studies animal studies suggest that significant cross-serotype protection is possible.

Summary

Cold vaccines are tricky to make because there are so many viruses that can cause cold symptoms.

Even though colds impact millions of people a year, they tend to go away on their own and don't typically cause serious issues in the majority of people infected. However, some people who have underlying medical conditions can get very sick due to the common cold, and research for vaccines and cold treatments is underway.

While a cold vaccine would be especially helpful for those with lung-related issues, research thus far has not found an effective way to create this particular vaccine.

A Word From Verywell

Because a cold vaccine is not yet available, the best thing you can do is take precautions to keep yourself safe and as healthy as possible.

If you do get a cold, treat it appropriately and try to stay away from people, especially older individuals, infants, and those with severe asthmawho may not get over it as easily as you do.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Common cold.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Common colds: protect yourself and others.

  3. Lee WM, Lemanske RF, Evans MD, et al. Human rhinovirus species and season of infection determine illness severityAm J Respir Crit Care Med. 2012;186(9):886-891. doi:10.1164/rccm.201202-0330OC  

  4. Simancas-Racines D, Franco JV, Guerra CV, Felix ML, Hidalgo R, Martinez-Zapata MJ. Vaccines for the common coldCochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017;5:CD002190. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD002190.pub5

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Common colds: protect yourself and others.

  6. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Common cold.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Understanding how vaccines work.

  8. McLean GR. Developing a vaccine for human rhinoviruses. J Vaccines Immun. 2014;2(3):16-20. doi:10.14312/2053-1273.2014-3

By Kristina Duda, RN
Kristina Duda, BSN, RN, CPN, has been working in healthcare since 2002. She specializes in pediatrics and disease and infection prevention.