Promoting the global eradication of COVID-19 through mail-in testing of mild and asymptomatic cases

The Sane Approach to a Vaccine

SANE stands for “Search for an Attenuated Natural [Strain] via Epidemiology.”

Essentially, yes. We are following a tried and tested approach to solving a vaccine problem – the polio, measles, rubella, mumps, and chickenpox vaccines all use live attenuated (weakened) viruses, which is what The SANE Project aims to find. Our approach adds in modern genetic sequencing technology that has become available since these older vaccines were developed.

Public Answer:

Our goal is to:

  1. Test people with mild or asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 via easy mail-in kits
  2. Get genetic data from the sampled virus, in order to detect mutations caused by Mother Nature
  3. Detect and track down a weakened form of the virus. The oral polio vaccine was also created from a natural virus mutation that made it weak enough to use in a vaccine. Please see our detailed approach here.

Scientific Answer:

  • There are natural strains of SARS-CoV-2 in the world that have mutated to be non-pathogenic (asymptomatic or mild), but which are still infective and will provide immunity to the more pathogenic (deadly) strains.
  • One of these natural attenuated strains could be used as a live vaccine and its safety demonstrated using epidemiology via its natural transmission.
  • Please see our detailed approach here.

Eventually, we would like to sample many people from global hotspots but would first start locally in the United States. Please see our high-level approach here.

Another approach is to routinely test people in long-term care facilities or other isolated communities such as meatpacking plants that do not already have active cases of infection. If we detect the virus in an infected community where its people are only mildly sick or completely asymptomatic, we may have found clues pointing us towards a weakened or “attenuated” version of the virus that could then be used for a vaccine.

We certainly hope other vaccine efforts succeed! However, a diversified approach to the many challenges of a global pandemic is critical, not to mention any future pandemics that may arise.

  • Apart from the time it will take to develop, trial, and mass produce one of these so-called “designer” vaccines (12-18 months), it is unlikely that vaccines other than the live-attenuated type we are searching for will be able to produce long-lasting protection with a single dose.
  • This is because immunity to respiratory viruses (like the novel coronavirus) doesn’t usually last longer than 6 months to 2 years with a single inactivated vaccine.
  • We would need to keep vaccinating everyone in the world every year (or maybe every 6 months if we are unlucky).
  • This just isn’t going to work in the real world (especially poor countries or conflict zones) and is one of the reasons why we don’t have a vaccine for the coronavirus strains that cause the common cold.
  • Unless we can drive the current dangerous SARS-CoV-2 strains to extinction we are going to have a problem with this disease indefinitely.

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Read more FAQs

The SANE Approach Infographic

The Sane Approach

A Possible Solution to COVID-19

There may be a less harmful or “attenuated” strain of the virus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19, but the only way to know is to go out and look. It is in fact unethical not to look. If we find such a strain, there are many possible implications, from a faster and less costly path to a vaccine to improving the outcomes and ethics of vaccine trials.

It is a grave mistake to only test sick people – we should be testing healthy people, too. We now know there are many SARS-CoV-2 strains with gene deletions, i.e. mutations. We should know if some of those mutations make people less sick.

We hope that current vaccine efforts succeed, but are worried even if they do, who would have access? Who could afford it? The SANE Approach, if it leads to a vaccine, is not patentable and would not exist for financial profit.

Background Information

We are promoting the search for a weakened, mutated form (i.e. an “attenuated” form) of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) which causes COVID-19. 

We can maximize our chances of finding an attenuated virus by harnessing modern sequencing technology, which allows scientists to decipher reliably the genome of hundreds of thousands of variants at relatively low cost and effort. 

Samples have so far been collected primarily from sick patients, who are unlikely to be infected with an attenuated variant. We need to start gathering samples from asymptomatic or mildly sick individuals. This approach is becoming increasingly plausible as sequencing capacity expands. 

Patient outcome data must be paired with viral genome sequences in databases. We ought to pair clinical outcomes with viral genomic data. Right now, “do you have COVID-19?” is the only data we are collecting. We should be collecting data about how sick people are or become, and pair that with the genetics of the virus that infected them.

Despite the routine use of live-attenuated vaccines against polio, measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox, modern “designer” vaccines have gained favor over live ones. In view of the size of the crisis, diversification of efforts to obtain a vaccine is key.

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