It might be a little too early to start celebrating our freedom from the current lockdown. However, the first human trial in Europe of a Covid-19 vaccine has begun in Oxford.
Initially, two volunteers were injected and were the first out of more than 800 recruited for the study. The study will have half the recruits injected with the Covid-19 vaccine and the other half with a control vaccine which protects against meningitis.
For the trial, the volunteers will not be aware of which vaccine they are getting, only the doctors will have that data.
Impressively, the vaccine was developed in under three months by a team at Offord University. The pre-clinical research was led by Professor Sarah Gilbert, who is the professor of vaccinology at the Jenner Institute.
“Personally I have a high degree of confidence in this vaccine,” she said.
“Of course, we have to test it and get data from humans. We have to demonstrate it actually works and stops people getting infected with coronavirus before using the vaccine in the wider population.”
In addition, Prof Gilbert previously said she was “80% confident” the vaccine would work, but now prefers not to put a figure on it, saying simply she is “very optimistic” about its chances.
So how does the vaccine work?
The vaccine is made from a weakened version of a common cold virus (known as an adenovirus) from chimpanzees that has been modified so it cannot grow in humans.
- Scientists have taken genes for the spike protein on the surface of coronavirus and put them into a harmless virus to make a vaccine.
- This is injected into the patient.
- The vaccine enters cells, which then start to produce the coronavirus spike protein.
- This prompts the immune system to produce antibodies and activates killer T-cells to destroy infected cells.
- If the patient encounters coronavirus again, the antibodies and T cells are triggered to fight the virus.
How safe is the vaccine?
The volunteers will be in safe hands and the trial will be carefully monitored over the coming months. They have been informed that they may experience a sore arm, fever or headache in the first few days after the vaccine.
The trial volunteers will be carefully monitored in the coming months. They have been told that some may get a sore arm, headaches or fevers in the first couple of days after vaccination.
It appears that the scientists are hoping to have one million doses ready by September, and rapidly increase the manufacturing scale, should the vaccine prove effective.
Who would get the vaccine first?
According to Prof Gilbert: “It’s not really our role to dictate what will happen, we just have to try to get a vaccine that works and have enough of it and then it will be for others to decide.”
Prof Pollard added: “We’ve got to ensure we have enough doses to provide for those in greatest need, not just in the UK but also in developing countries.”