Testing vaccines on animals won’t help us prevent or cure coronavirus in humans, but there are non-animal research methods that can.
As we search for treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, humans and animals have important differences in susceptibility to viral infection, immune response, and clinical symptoms.
Because of these differences, no animal model was ever able to reproduce the necessary components of SARS or MERS, the two coronavirus diseases that led to earlier pandemics.
To this day, we still have no vaccines for these deadly diseases. In addition, animals cannot capture the complex array of risk factors.
This is particularly important for COVID-19 since underlying health conditions and factors like race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status are major predictors for COVID-19 risk and mortality.
Statistics showed that COVID-19 cases are significantly higher in proportion to the black population. For instance, black people make up 25% of the population in Michigan, but they’re over 35% of the COVID-19 cases there.
The way of the future is innovative human-based techniques. So, what are they? Methods like human tissue chips that model lungs, liver, and our immune system have already been developed for researching COVID-19. And more exciting advances are being developed every day.
Non-animal COVID-19 research gives us a better understanding of how the disease affects people and how to treat it. Plus, human-relevant models save time and money. They require less staff, and of course, they save countless animal lives.
More and more research organizations, like The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, are pushing federal agencies like the NIH to prioritize the use of non-animal methods for studying COVID-19.
They are also lobbying Congress to urge NIH to provide more funding for innovative non-animal methods. This will not only help us in responding to COVID-19 today, but it will also give us valuable tools for dealing with future pandemics.
We have no more time to waste!