Finally some legitimate cause for hope in the fight against COVID-19. A vaccine being developed at the University of Oxford has been shown to produce a strong immune response. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci “any way you slice it, this is good news”. In a clinical trial published Monday in the medical journal The Lancet, a coronavirus vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca has been shown to be safe and generated two “strong” immune responses: the production of both antibodies and T cells, which find and attack virus cells. This means that it acts like a regular vaccine and attaches antibodies to the virus to prevent it from infecting cells but that also it produces lymphocytes that kill cells that have already been infected. This is very unusual in a vaccine in that it offers hope that it can not only prevent the disease but that it may also be used as a treatment.
Oxford has been working on this vaccine for two years now and had already completed safety studies when the novel coronavirus began in China. Subsequent studies in monkeys have shown it to be effective against the novel coronavirus. This latest trial was begun in May. This was a trial of 1,077 study participants, all adults. The trial did not look at whether the vaccine prevents coronavirus infection, however. That will be determined in the phase 3 trials, which are currently taking place in Brazil, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. Trials will also be started in other parts of the world, including the United States. Sadly we have enough hotspots for coronavirus outbreaks that trials can be conducted here in the US. Over 30,000 people will be included in the next round of clinical trials.
“We’re getting both sides of the immune system stimulated and that is fairly unusual for vaccines,” Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute at Oxford University, told NBC News.
The T cell response was noted within 14 days of receiving the vaccine. This immune response was detected for at least 56 days after getting the shot, though it’s unclear how long it will last. Fatigue and headache were the most common side effects reported.
Asked whether a finished vaccine was likely in the next year, Hill said the research was still targeting 2020.
“A vaccine later this year is not impossible, a lot of things would have to go right for that to happen and to be deployed in 2020, but we’re still targeting that.”
The clinical trial did not establish whether the vaccine protects against coronavirus infection.
In addition to the Oxford vaccine, Dozens of teams across the world are working on potential coronavirus vaccines.
Moderna, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech company, published its phase 1 trial results of its vaccine last week and announced plans to begin its final phase of human testing at the end of July. In the phase 1 trial, researchers reported that all 45 volunteers developed antibodies key to fighting the coronavirus. With billions of people on the planet that will need to be vaccinated we need multiple vaccines being produced by every pharmaceutical company in order to meet the demand, so the more vaccines we have the better. In addition, the British Government has committed over 100 million pounds to begin ramping up production now, knowing that if phase three clinical trial fails all that vaccine will have to be destroyed. With the global cost that this virus has inflicted the British government figures that is a wise investment to make, even if it does fail.
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While we are waiting
More and more research is showing that wearing masks is the single biggest thing we can do to reduce transmission of the disease. While the researchers work on a possible vaccine we can all do our part to take control of this thing by wearing masks when we are inside with other people and outside when social distancing is not possible.