Researchers think they’re close to a cure for the common cold, but they first need to solve a complex problem that’s perplexed scientists for decades. Polio, smallpox, hepatitis A and B are all serious viruses humanity learned to subdue with effective solutions. Even the flu, which can shift and mutate each year, has a vaccine. And yet, there’s no remedy for the lowly cold.

  • 14
    $\begingroup$ It's a naming fallacy. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Nov 29, 2022 at 15:37
  • 10
    $\begingroup$ Which common cold? Them buggers mutate so fast we can't even name them properly. $\endgroup$ Nov 29, 2022 at 20:54
  • $\begingroup$ We have cured it, but by common language usage instead of medicine. Nobody I know has gotten a cold for 20 years. They still get the sort of infection we used to call a cold, but now everybody calls it the flu. $\endgroup$ Dec 1, 2022 at 17:57
  • $\begingroup$ Masks help. I have been cold-free since the start of 2020, while I suffered at least one cold per late autumn, winter or early spring before that, all my life. $\endgroup$
    – AnoE
    Dec 2, 2022 at 12:01
  • $\begingroup$ There's also a cost/benefit issue. It's easier to spend billions on research for a disease which can cause deaths (especially if a lot of them), a lot more difficult for diseases which just cause you relatively mild symptoms. $\endgroup$
    – jcaron
    Dec 2, 2022 at 14:42

1 Answer 1


There is one simple reason: Contrary to the viruses you named in your question, which are all caused by one virus (or from the same family), there is nothing like "the" cold virus. This makes it a manageable task to find a vaccine for the former, although it doesn't mean it is simple.

A cold is viral infection of the upper respiratory tract which are caused by a wide variety of different viruses. The term "cold" is an umbrella term for a wide variety of symptoms following such an infection including coughing, sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, headache, and fever. See reference 1.

The paper in reference 2 lists about 200 serological different viruses, with Rhinoviruses being the most common. Other viruses occuring include adenoviruses, human coronaviruses, human respiratory syncytial viruses, other enteroviruses, human parainfluenza viruses, and human metapneumovirus.

Although there are seven human corona viruses (see here), only four of them are associated with the cold:

229E (alpha coronavirus)
NL63 (alpha coronavirus)
OC43 (beta coronavirus)
HKU1 (beta coronavirus)

The other three can cause a considerably more severe disease and are not seen as causing a cold:

MERS-CoV (the beta coronavirus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS)
SARS-CoV (the beta coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS)
SARS-CoV-2 (the novel coronavirus that causes coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19)

See reference 4 for a more detailed look on them.

This list should make pretty clear why there will be nothing like a general cold immunization, since the number of viruses is too big. Additionally, all these viruses can change over time due to mutations which would need permanent adjustments to such a vaccine. This is already a big deal for influenza, but there are only limited viruses around there.

  1. Understanding the symptoms of the common cold and influenza
  2. Understanding the symptoms of the common cold and influenza
  3. Epidemiology of Viral Respiratory Tract Infections
  4. The human coronaviruses (HCoVs) and the molecular mechanisms of SARS-CoV-2 infection
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for this instructive write-up. I was vaguely aware of several viruses being responsible, but you put it together very nicely, and with references, and put it in context with SARS_CoV-2: Good job. $\endgroup$ Dec 2, 2022 at 9:38

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