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For example, if a scientist from 2018 found one of today's Covid vaccines, can they tell that it is a vaccine to a hitherto unknown disease, and therefore infer that Covid exists?

I'm guessing that the answer depends on the type of vaccine, in which case I'm interested in all of them.

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    $\begingroup$ @JiminyCricket. that sounds like the answer I'm looking for. (Although how can you tell it appears to be an inoculation of some kind?) $\endgroup$
    – Allure
    Aug 22, 2022 at 4:15
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    $\begingroup$ I'll write an answer. $\endgroup$ Aug 22, 2022 at 4:16

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The main giveaway that it's designed to produce an immune response would be the presence of an immunological-adjuvant:

a substance that increases or modulates the immune response to a vaccine.

Now, of course, adjuvants are used in cancer treatment, but the difference with inoculations for pathogens is that there'd be an additional molecule or set of them which triggers a specific immune response.

There are nearly a dozen types of "vaccine" for COVID and variants, the majority are focusing on making use of the spike protein of the virus to create a response, but there are some which are designed to create a response to the capsid proteins, i.e. the viral-shell. Neither the spike protein nor the capsid would be expected to be found natively existing in the human body.

This doesn't mean they all contain the spike protein (or any other target protein), the mRNA version for example is designed to induce the body's own systems to produce the spike.

Some contain an adenovirus - a familiar companion found usually in the mucus membranes of human populations causing a number of familiar respiratory diseases. This being also designed to induce the body to produce the spike protein and only that. They would be otherwise reproductively inert.

Some contain artificially produced virus-like particles which have some characteristic in common with the target virus.

The one producing arguably the broadest response would be the virus particles themselves, artificially cultured then inactivated before administration. This would be straight-up identify the virus that the vaccine is designed to combat. At the time of writing, these seem to have been primarily developed and deployed in China.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for answer. I take it the short version is yes - it's possible to tell that the unknown substance is an artificially produced vaccine. Do you know if it's obvious or if it's only obvious in hindsight? $\endgroup$
    – Allure
    Aug 22, 2022 at 5:24
  • $\begingroup$ I guess I didn't explicitly say, but yes. If the mRNA vaccine, we should have been able to identify that from about 1990 onwards as its development began in the 1980s. The rest is older and would be recognised. An exception might be the virus-like particles which resemble other things found in nature - like the substances found in the sting of some parasitic wasps - it might be suspected that we're trying to mind-control caterpillars if not for other clues like the adjuvant ;) @Allure $\endgroup$ Aug 22, 2022 at 5:32

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