Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is the first emerging epidemic of the 21st century. Although it is still too early to to predict how SARS will evolve in the future, the world has already learned several encouraging lessons.
The identification of a new coronavirus as the etiological agent of SARS and the deciphering of its genetic make-up open the way to designing vaccines that could be at the forefront of public health measures if the epidemic ever spreads to the poorest regions in the world. But the development of a vaccine is no trivial endeavour. Indeed little is known of the immunology and pathogenesis of SARS that could guide rational vaccine development. Of particular concern is the potential immunopathogenic mechanisms which could be triggered by a SARS vaccine, leading to more severe disease in vaccinees, as has been shown with some veterinary coronavirus vaccines.
Developing countries should take an active part in the development and evaluation of SARS vaccines, and several laboratories in Asia are already engaging in that effort.
For its part, WHO will continue its surveillance, monitoring and outbreak response activities in collaborations with its member states, in addition IVR has a SARS vaccine development project initially exploring the following aspects:
- Participation in the establishment of repositories of SARS coronavirus strains and other related specimens, as well as a database of SARS coronavirus nucleotide sequences.
- Characterise virus strains to select the best ones for vaccine development.
- Sponsoring of collaborative studies to standardise laboratory assays to evaluate immune responses to SARS and SARS candidate vaccines.
- Standardisation of animal models for SARS vaccines.
- Monitor advances on vaccine (product) development
- Facilitate the conduct of human trials.
- Addressing SARS vaccine-specific regulatory issues and facilitating clinical trials in developing countries.
WHO will also provide the necessary fora for scientists, industry and public health authorities from industrialised and less developed countries to meet and ensure effective coordination and collaboration, and to advocate appropriate access of all populations in need of future vaccines.