Vaccines for the common cold

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Plain language summary

Vaccines for preventing the common cold

Review question

Can vaccines help prevent the common cold?


The common cold is mainly caused by a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract. People with the common cold feel unwell, have a runny nose, nasal congestion, sneezing, cough with or without sore throat, and have slightly elevated temperatures. However, people usually recover when their immune system controls the impact of the viral infection. Treatment for this condition is aimed at relieving symptoms. Globally, the common cold causes widespread illness and large economic loss. In the United States, economic loss due to the common cold is estimated at more than USD 40 billion per year, including millions of workdays and school days missed. In Europe, the total cost per episode may be up to EUR 1102. There is also a large expenditure on inappropriate antimicrobial prescriptions. It has been difficult to manufacture vaccines to prevent the common cold because it is caused by several viruses. The effect of vaccines for preventing the common cold in healthy people is still unknown.

Search date

The evidence is current to 26 April 2022.

Study characteristics

We did not identify any new trials for inclusion in this update. This review includes one previously identified randomised controlled trial (a type of study where participants are randomly assigned to one of two or more treatment groups) performed in 1965. This study involved 2307 young, healthy military men at a training facility in the United States Navy, and evaluated the effects of a live attenuated (weakened) adenovirus vaccine, an inactivated type 4, and an inactivated type 4 and 7 vaccines compared to a placebo (fake vaccine).

Study funding sources

The included trial was funded by a government institution.

Key results

There were no differences in the frequency of occurrence of the common cold between those who received a live attenuated adenovirus vaccine compared to those who received a placebo. There were no differences between groups in adverse events. However, as the trial participants were not representative of the general population and there were flaws in the study design, our confidence in the results is very low. Further research is needed to find out if vaccines can prevent the common cold, as the current evidence does not support the use of the adenovirus vaccine to prevent the common cold in healthy people.

Certainty of the evidence

We assessed the certainty of the evidence as very low due to high risk of bias; because the study population was only young men; and due to the small number of people included in the study and low numbers of colds.