Scientists have started vaccinations in a clinical trial designed to test the safety of a MERS vaccine.

Scientists at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research started vaccinations yesterday in the first clinical trial to test the safety and immune response in people of a vaccine candidate to prevent Middle East respiratory syndrome, known as MERS.

A MERS vaccine would be an important medical countermeasure for US troops in the Middle East and wherever the virus might arise, officials said.

MERS is a severe respiratory disease similar to severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS. Both are coronaviruses. MERS was first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and has since infected more than 1,600 people.

The coronavirus kills about 40 percent of those infected, principal investigator Dr Kayvon Modjarrad told DoD News in a telephone interview, “so low prevalence doesn’t mean low risk.”

Modjarrad is associate director for the Emerging Infectious Disease Research Program at WRAIR.

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