US, Saudis Discuss MERS Vaccine

US, Saudis Discuss MERS VaccineUS, Saudis Discuss MERS Vaccine

The United States and Saudi Arabia may prepare a vaccine for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) to try and head off the next outbreak of the disease, says Margaret Chan, head of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The Saudi Health Ministry was discussing the issue with US public health officials, NDTV reported.

“They looked at collaboration and to see whether we can, in terms of preparedness, get some vaccines ready in advance of another MERS outbreak,” Chan told reporters.

MERS has killed at least 571 of 1,595 people infected since September 2012, mainly in Saudi Arabia.

There are currently no licensed vaccines available for MERS. In July, researchers trying to develop a vaccine in the US said they had early signs of success in animal experiments.

The facts behind the coronavirus that causes MERS have been slow to emerge, partly due to a secretive response in Saudi Arabia. But scientists do know that it is similar to the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed around 800 people worldwide in 2002-2003.

Chan also said she was worried about other diseases including the flu strains H5N1 and H7N9.

The transmission of MERS in Saudi hospitals and a MERS outbreak in South Korea showed that infection control standards were not being adhered to and this was one of many examples of countries not sticking to their promises.

Many MERS patients were health workers who became infected when sufferers came to hospital for treatment. Chan contrasted this to the record of the more than 1,000 Chinese doctors who went to treat Ebola in West Africa, none of whom caught Ebola.

“They were using the WHO guidelines on infection control. And yet we see so many countries with infected people who we had to evacuate,” she said.