Oxford Univ. Starts Promising Human Vaccine Trial

The COVID-19 virus has caused a global pandemic. It’s a novel virus that researchers are still learning about. Unlike most coronaviruses, including the common cold, it sometimes impacts people’s health in ways that don’t affect the respiratory system. People have been experiencing heart and kidney problems that confound doctors. There is no specific treatment for the illness, making it harder to fight. And scientists are worried about vaccines as one has never been approved for any coronavirus in the past.

The situation is serious. And, many of us are worried about our health, the safety of loved ones and when we’ll be able to return to our regular routines. There are well over 100 different potential coronavirus vaccines in the works. Scientists all around the world are working hard to produce an effective vaccine to prevent the spread of the virus. This is useful as a vaccine that works well in one group of people may not for another. For instance, one vaccine may help children the most, another might be better for older people.

On last Thursday, scientists at Oxford Univ. injected their first human volunteers with their vaccine. Approximately 1,110 people will be in the study, half receiving the vaccine and the other half getting a placebo. A second phase of the experiment will start in May and will have thousands more volunteers receiving the shots. As many as 6,000 people will be injected by the end of May

The vaccine is based on the cold virus that chimpanzees get. It has been modified so that it cannot make people ill. It may be close enough to protect people from COVID-19. Very similar vaccines have been used in people before and proven safe, which is why they were able to move to human trials so quickly. 

The vaccine has already been proven to be effective in rhesus macaque monkeys. After their injections, they were exposed to high levels of COVID-19 and remained healthy and uninfected. All the monkeys whole weren’t vaccinated became ill. This is promising as macaques share 93% of their DNA with humans. However, there is no guarantee that it will work in humans. Prof. Sarah Gilbert, who is leading the team, says that she is “80% confident” it will work.

A problem facing the trial is that England is doing quite well at slowing the spread of the virus. Ethically, the researchers cannot expose people in the trial to COVID-19 purposefully while there is no treatment for the illness. That means that, after receiving their vaccine or placebo, they will just go back to their lives. They could come into contact with the virus in the supermarket, while out for a walk or through other ways, but they won’t be exposed to the virus on purpose. If the virus is well contained in their area, the vaccine might not be tested — it can’t protect someone against something it never came in contact with. So, they will be looking at the placebo group. If more than 12 people in the placebo group become ill while the vaccinated people stay healthy, it will be a sign that it is working.

The researchers said that, if the people in the placebo group don’t become ill, it could be because the virus isn’t as prevalent in the area. Then, they will have to test it in a place where the illness is still raging. “We’ll have to chase the epidemic,” Prof. Adrian Hill said. “If it is still raging in certain states, it is not inconceivable we end up testing in the United States in November.”

The study will take at least until September. Still, there is good news on that front, the Serum Institute of India, which is the world’s largest vaccine maker, is working ahead. They are already working on 40 million doses. If the vaccines are proven to be safe and effective, the first wave will be ready to be released.

We are waiting in anticipation for this group, and all the other researchers, to release their findings. The sooner they can find vaccines and useful treatments, the better!

Banner Image: Oxford Univ.
April 29, 2020
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