Why do some coronaviruses become pandemic threats when others do not?

Rice BL, Lessler J, McKee C, Metcalf CJE

Despite multiple spillover events and short chains of transmission on at least 4 continents, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) has never triggered a pandemic. By contrast, its relative, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has, despite apparently little, if any, previous circulation in humans. Resolving the unsolved mystery of the failure of MERS-CoV to trigger a pandemic could help inform how we understand the pandemic potential of pathogens, and probing it underscores a need for a more holistic understanding of the ways in which viral genetic changes scale up to population-level transmission.