In 2017, three leading vaccine researchers submitted a grant application with an ambitious goal. At the time, no one had proved a vaccine could stop even a single beta coronavirus—the notorious viral group then known to include the lethal agents of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), as well as several causes of the common cold and many bat viruses. But these researchers wanted to develop a vaccine against them all.
Grant reviewers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) deemed the plan “outstanding.” But they gave the proposal a low priority score, dooming its bid for funding. “The significance for developing a pan-coronavirus vaccine may not be high,” they wrote, apparently unconvinced that the viruses pose a global threat. How things have changed.