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Oxford COVID-19 Vaccine Developer Cautious On 2020 Roll-Out

The experimental vaccine, which has been licensed to AstraZeneca, produced an immune response in early-stage clinical trials, data showed on Monday, preserving hopes it could be in use by the end of 2020.

Jul 22, 2020 / 10:48 AM IST

The University of Oxford’s possible COVID-19 vaccine could be rolled out by the end of the year but there is no certainty, the lead developer of the vaccine said.

The experimental vaccine, which has been licensed to AstraZeneca, produced an immune response in early-stage clinical trials, data showed on Monday, preserving hopes it could be in use by the end of 2020.

“The end of the year target for getting vaccine roll-out, it’s a possibility but there’s absolutely no certainty about that because we need three things to happen,” Sarah Gilbert told BBC Radio.

She said it needed to be shown to work in late-stage trials, there needed to be large quantities manufactured, and regulators had to agree quickly to license it for emergency use before large numbers of people could be vaccinated.

England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and his deputy Jonathan Van-Tam took differing views on the potential timeline.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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“The chance of us getting a vaccine before Christmas that actually is highly effective are, in my view, very low,” Whitty told lawmakers.

Van-Tam, however, said he was “cautiously optimistic that we will have some vaccine this side of Christmas.”

Sitting somewhere in the middle, health minister Matt Hancock told a parliamentary committee that despite being an “optimist in life” for what he called the best case scenario in getting a vaccine for Christmas, he could not “promise to play Santa”.

The Oxford scientists had eyed a million doses of the potential vaccine to be produced by September.

Although the deal with AstraZeneca has provided manufacturing capacity to do that, the lower prevalence of the novel coronavirus in Britain has complicated the process of proving its efficacy.

Late-stage trials crucial for providing data are under way in Brazil and South Africa and are due to start in the United States also.

There are no approved vaccines yet for COVID-19, but the World Health Organization has said AstraZeneca’s shot is one of the leading candidates.
Reuters
first published: Jul 22, 2020 10:48 am
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