Trials of a coronavirus vaccine developed by the University of Oxford were shown to be safe and triggered an immune response in a recent study, fueling hope for an end to the pandemic that has ground live entertainment and events to a near-halt worldwide. The vaccine, called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 needs further testing, but the United Kingdom has already ordered production of 100 million doses in an initial run despite final testing before approval.
More than 1,000 volunteers were involved in the study, which showed that 90% of those involved developed antibodies after a single dose.
“We’re really pleased with the results published today as we’re seeing both neutralising antibodies and T-cells,” Prof. Andrew Pollard from the Oxford group told the BBC. “They’re extremely promising and we believe the type of response that may be associated with protection.”
Other vaccine trials in the U.S. and China have had similarly promising results in early tests, but widespread distribution of an approved vaccine is likely a ways off. For the UK group, the next step is a trial involving 10,000 people or more, both within the nation and in other countries. A trial set for the U.S. is expected to have more than 30,000 participants for another vaccine candidate. Most officials believe that widespread vaccination is unlikely this year, with high-risk individuals and healthcare workers likely first in line to receive a vaccine when it is available.
While the Oxford vaccine has been determined to be safe thus far, it does have a common side effect of those receiving doses developing either fever or headache – however both are low grade and can be treated with over the counter medicine. The biggest question to be answered is whether or not a vaccine will provide meaningful long-term protection against the coronavirus. Producing antibodies and T-cells means that the vaccines are doing what most successful vaccines do in terms of triggering the immune system to be better equipped to fight off the pathogen. But to what extent that will improve outcomes for patients (or whether or not it will help people avoid infection entirely) won’t be known until far down the road.
Regardless, the news is promising, particularly within the framework of hopes for events coming back sooner rather than later. While many consumers have shown a strong willingness to go to events even with no vaccine, there is a large swath of the population (and of event organizers) that are wary of putting on or attending anything above a certain scale prior to the perceived safety that a vaccine would likely provide. If nothing else, a vaccine would likely go a long way towards convincing government officials to stop restricting large-scale events and let consumers make the decision for themselves whether or not they’d like to attend.
Prof Sarah Gilbert, from the University of Oxford, UK, says: “There is still much work to be done before we can confirm if our vaccine will help manage the Covid-19 pandemic, but these early results hold promise.”