Like Rand Paul said today, history will figure things out eventually. I would never have considered the possibility that a MERS “vaccine” could have mutated and spread the MERS virus in 2014 if I had not seen today’s COVID vaccines mutate and spread SARS2 all over the world 2020-Present.

It is circumstantial evidence that leads me to believe that vaccinated camels spread the MERS virus in April of 2014. Ralph Baric at UNC, and Ralph Denison at Vanderbilt, had already announced a vaccination strategy for coronaviruses that involved a modified version of SARS in 2012. Other researchers had announced experimental SARS vaccines in 2012. Researchers were talking about specific methods to create a MERS vaccine in 2013. Then the spike in MERS occurred in April of 2014. So the only question is, were camels in Saudi Arabia vaccinated prior to April of 2014 or not?

I’ve used some tweets of EcoHealth team members Jonathan Epstein and Kevil Olival because they show how the MERS Pandemic unfolded. I don’t think they were involved in any vaccine research. I hope they will read this article and comment. Perhaps they heard some discussions of vaccinating the camels around the time of the MERS spike in April 2014. I haven’t used any tweets of Peter Daszak, because he blocked me on Twitter after I asked him about any virus surveillance data around Wuhan that he might possess or have knowledge of.

And with that, I’ll let the reader read the original sources. Read the original sources and decide for yourself. My hypothesis is a simple one: Saudi Arabia very likely vaccinated the camels with an experimental MERS vaccine prior to April 2014. The experimental MERS vaccine, like the COVID vaccines today, created spike proteins of coronavirus in the vaccinated host as designed. The host responded by producing antigens to the spike proteins as designed. The antigens did not kill the virus. The virus survived and replicated in the host camels, thereby creating camel “super spreaders” of the MERS virus. The camels then spread the virus to humans, causing the spike in MERS cases in April 2014. The rest of this article is timeline with limited commentary.

April 20, 2012. Researchers publish results of four experimental SARS vaccines.

June 13, 2012. The first diagnosed case of MERS in Saudi Arabia. “A 60-year-old Saudi man was admitted to a private hospital in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on June 13, 2012, with a 7-day history of fever, cough, expectoration, and shortness of breath.” The link is from the New England Journal of Medicine in November, 2012.

October, 2012. Ian Lipkin, Columbia University, travelled to Saudi Arabia to the home of the MERS victim who had died by this point. They took samples from bats in the area and supposedly found one sample with MERS.

Science. The samples, collected in October 2012, were frozen and transported to Columbia University on dry ice. But customs officers opened the shipment and its contents sat at room temperature for 2 days, thawing all the samples, Lipkin says. “That is probably why we didn’t get more sequences out of this.”

Marion Koopmans, an infectious diseases researcher at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands, who was not involved in the work … points out that the fragment is not only short but also comes from one of the least variable parts of the viral genome, so the full genomes of bat and human virus could still differ significantly.

November 12, 2012. Vanderbilt University publishes results of their efforts in modifying SARS virus, which emerged in China in late 2002. Vanderbilt said they had been involved in “more than a decade of collaboration” with Ralph Baric and the University of North Carolina, which means that they got started on SARS quickly in 2002.

Ralph Baric and Ralph Denison modified SARS by removing an “ExoN” protein. This made the virus mutate much faster. They said since it mutated so fast, that the virus would be unlikely to survive. They called their modified SARS virus a “live vaccine.” It was unclear to me how the “live vaccine” approach was supposed to protect anyone against SARS. Below is a figure from the Mutated SARS “vaccine” study published by Baric, Denison and all in Nature in 2011.

Figure 1: The nsp14 ExoN mutator virus in a virulent mouse-adapted SARS-CoV isogenic background.

Ralph Baric Mutated SARS Vaccine 2012 Ralph Denison Vanderbilt

May 10, 2013. Jonathan Epstein: “@DavidQuammen “MERS is an interesting case.  I wonder if we’re seeing just the tip of the iceberg.”

Jonathan Epstein MERS tip of the Iceberg

July 3, 2013. Journal of Virology. Researchers identified the human receptor that MERS attaches to: DPP4. They said it was a promising discovery that could be used to make a vaccine. Here we showed that residues 377 to 662 in the S protein of MERS-CoV specifically bound to DPP4-expressing cells and soluble DPP4 protein and induced significant neutralizing antibody responses, suggesting that this region contains the receptor-binding domain (RBD), which has a potential to be developed as a MERS-CoV vaccine.

MERS Vaccine Spike Protein 2013

August 9, 2013. Jonathan Epstein: An important piece of the MERS puzzle!Camels May Transmit New Middle Eastern Virus | Science/AAAS | News… #MERS. Excerpts: “Now, an international team of scientists has tested the blood of various livestock species, including cattle, sheep, goats, and camels from the Netherlands, Spain, Chile, and Oman. They also tried to get samples from countries that have had human MERS cases, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, says Marion Koopmans, an infectious disease researcher at the National Institute of Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands and one of the authors of the paper. But none of those countries cooperated. … As expected, several animals had antibodies against OC43 in their blood, and none carried antibodies against SARS. But 50 dromedary camels from Oman that were tested all had antibodies against the MERS virus, the scientists report today in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.  … The researchers also found MERS antibodies in 15 of 105 camels from the Canary Islands. Their antibody levels were lower, however, and the finding should not be overinterpreted, Koopmans says. “It may be due to exposure long ago,” she says. Only three of the animals were imported—from Morocco, more than 18 years ago.”

August 21, 2013. University published a paper that says that a 100% genetic match for MERS was discovered. Because they only had one little piece of MERS bat poop from their sampling efforts, meaning that MERS was not in bats in the area of the MERS outbreak, Columbia speculated that there had to be an intermediate host. They quoted the Saudi Arabian Minister of Health: “There is no evidence of direct exposure to bats in the majority of human cases of MERS,” says Ziad Memish, MD, Deputy Minister of Health, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and lead author of the study. “Given that human-to-human transmission is inefficient, we speculate that an as-yet-to-be determined intermediate host plays a critical role in human disease.”

August 21, 2013. Jonathan Epstein: “Bat data from our #MERS investigation in Saudi Arabia with @ecohealthnyc and @CII_Columbia is now published in EID” (The link to the CDC’s Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal no longer works.)

August 28, 2013. A MERS Virus Vaccine is developed. Journal of Virology: “Here, we constructed recombinant modified vaccinia virus Ankara (MVA) expressing full-length MERS-CoV spike (S) protein (MVA-MERS-S). The genetic stability and growth characteristics of MVA-MERS-S make it a suitable candidate vaccine for clinical testing.”

MERS Vaccine 2013 Ankara Spike Protein

October 11, 2013. Jonathan Epstein tweets an article on MERS and the DPP4 receptor in humans. Jonathan Epstein: “Interesting. Evolution of the DPP4 receptor in mammals.  More Evidence MERS Came from Bats | The Scientist ”

Jonathan Epstein DPP4 receptor MERS

October 16, 2013. Kevin Olival: “Myself and other colleagues from EcoHealth Alliance quoted in a new article from Time Magazine on MERS coronavirus.” Olival linked this article in Time. Excerpt: “Finally, we nailed it,” says Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth Alliance, a New York-based organization that patrols the animal-human health border. EcoHealth collaborated on the study with the Saudi Ministry of Health and Columbia University’s Center for Infection and Immunity. Researchers matched a fragment of viral RNA from a fecal pellet of the insect-eating Egyptian tomb bat to a sample from the first human case in Saudi Arabia. One problem: the genetic fragment was too small to be certain that it was indeed from the MERS virus.

Kevil Olival EcoHealth Alliance MERS

February 24, 2014. Columbia University reports that most camels in Saudi Arabia have MERS, and that the virus has been in camels for over 20 years by this date. “An estimated three-quarters of camels recently surveyed in Saudi Arabia have evidence of infection with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), the virus responsible for human cases of MERS. Results of the new study establish for the first time that direct camel-to-human transmission is possible and provide a pathway to control the spread of the disease.  An analysis of blood samples collected from 203 camels across Saudi Arabia in 2013 found 150, or 74%, had antibodies to the MERS coronavirus, indicating past infection.” … MERS-CoV has been carried by camels in Saudi Arabia for more than 20 years, and likely longer. The researchers looked at blood serum samples from camels, finding evidence of the virus dating back to 1992, the earliest sample.

April 21, 2014. Saudi Arabia fires their Health Minister without explanation. Lancet: the removal of former Health Minister Abdullah Al Rabeeah from his post on April 21, without any detailed explanation, caused speculation about the reasons for Al Rabeeah’s departure and its implications for health in Saudi Arabia. According to the Saudi Ministry of Health, Al Rabeeah has been “discharged from his current position and appointed as an adviser at the Royal Court (Diwan) at a rank of minister. 

In my opinion, this is circumstantial evidence that the Health Minister of Saudi Arabia had approved a vaccination of camels previously, which failed in terrible fashion. Al Rabeeah had previously supported a mass vaccine campaign in Saudi Arabia in late 2009 against “Swine Flu.”

Saudi Arabia fires Minister of Health April 2014 after spike in MERS

April 28, 2014. NBC reports on the spike in MERS. NBC: “Camels are almost certainly the source of the MERS virus that is on the upswing again across the Middle East, researchers reported on Tuesday.

A countrywide survey of camels shows many, if not most, are infected with a strain genetically almost identical to the strain that’s infecting people, a team at Columbia University, King Saud University, and the EcoHealth Alliance reported.

The World Health Organization has expressed alarm about the increase in reports of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). WHO reports more than 250 confirmed cases and 93 deaths since the virus was identified in 2012. But Saudi Arabia reported more cases over the weekend, taking the reported total to more than 300, with more than 100 deaths.

May 1, 2014. Kevil Olival tweets a graph showing the huge spike in MERS cases around April 2014. Kevil Olival: #MERS epi curve to date. From ECDC.” (I believe “ECDC” refers to European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control).

Kevil Olival MERS spike Saudi Arabia, April 2014

July 24, 2014. Kevin Olival tweets that he was quoted in a CNN article about whether or not MERS was airborne. Kevin Olival: “Hints at airborne transmission for #MERS, but more studies needed. Well balanced article from CNN, thanks for the qu…” Excerpt from the CNN article: Interestingly, the barn air tested positive for MERS on the exact same day that one of the nine camels in the barn tested positive for MERS. Also, the virus from the air sample was identical to the virus found in nasal samples from the infected camel and its owner.  The key point is the difference between dead virus particles and a viable virus.  “I could take billions of particles of dead viruses and could still find the RNA. That doesn’t mean that there are infectious aerosols,” Denison said.  Kevin Olival, a senior research scientist at EcoHealth Alliance, agrees on that distinction.  “We know that MERS is found in nasal secretion of camels, so virus particles being spread out in a barn is not a surprise,” he said. “Whether or not you can get infected, and if it’s a cause for concern, is still an open question.”

Kevin Olival MERS ariborne question 2014

November 2014. Colorado State University announces that it had partnered with the NIH to test MERS vaccines on camels. Excerpts: “The CSU researchers, partnering with an arm of the National Institutes of Health, demonstrated that infected camels shed large amounts of MERS virus, primarily through their nostrils.” … “Now the team of CSU and NIH researchers has procured additional camels, and in early August gave them the experimental vaccine in hopes it will reduce or eliminate the amount of virus the camels shed.  “The concept is to vaccinate the camels to protect the people,” Bowen said.

It’s a bit hard to believe that the United States would import camels into the US and give them MERS to test a vaccine after the MERS outbreak in the Middle East. Maybe the vaccine developed at CSU worked though. These two certainly don’t seem too concerned in September 29, 2014.

Colorado State University Camel Vaccines MERS 2014
Danielle Adney (purple top) and Vienna Brown (black top) both PhD students in the College of Verterinary Medince in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Pathology work with camels at the Animal Reproduction & Biotechnology Laboratory, September 29, 2014.

March 16, 2015: Kevin Olival: “Most #SARS candidate vaccines likely ‘failed due to lack of interest’. Bart Haagmans. #IOHC2015 Future for #MERS vaccine?”

March 16, 2015: Jonathan Epstein: “While a #MERS vaccine could be a useful tool for control, camel management practices also important for limiting spread. #IOHC2015

December 18, 2015. Kevin Olival: “#Camel pic I took in Saudi Arabia in 2013… will the #MERS vaccine work?” (Link no longer functions).