We’ve never made a successful vaccine for a coronavirus before. This is why it’s so difficult

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By Jo Khan | ABC Health & Wellbeing

For those pinning their hopes on a COVID-19 vaccine to return life to normal, an Australian expert in vaccine development has a reality check — it probably won’t happen soon.

The reality is that this particular coronavirus is posing challenges that scientists haven’t dealt with before, according to Ian Frazer from the University of Queensland.

Professor Frazer was involved in the successful development of the vaccine for the human papilloma virus which causes cervical cancer — a vaccine which took years of work to develop.

He said the challenge is that coronaviruses have historically been hard to make safe vaccines for, partly because the virus infects the upper respiratory tract, which our immune system isn’t great at protecting.

And while we have vaccines for seasonal influenza, HPV and other diseases, creating a new vaccine isn’t as simple as taking an existing one and swapping the viruses, said Larisa Labzin, an immunologist from the University of Queensland.

“For each virus or different bacterium that causes a disease, we need a different vaccine because the immune response that’s mounted is different,” Dr Labzin told ABC Science.

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