By Callum Keown and Lina Saigol
Many countries are cautiously emerging from lockdown, but life is unlikely to return to normal until a vaccine for this coronavirus is found.
So far, the virus has infected more than 4.5 million people across the world, killing close to 305,000, according to latest figures from the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, and bringing global economies to a near-standstill.
More than 70 potential vaccines are currently being developed, according to the World Health Organization, all of which are at various different stages as the race to defeat the virus starts to takes shape.
One project, being developed by clinical research teams at the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group in the U.K., seems to have taken an early lead. Researchers began working on a vaccine in February, and human trials started at the end of April.
Here’s everything you need to know about the vaccine, known as ChAdOx1 nCoV-19.
How does the vaccine work?
The vaccine is made from a weakened version of a common cold virus (known as an adenovirus) from chimpanzees, which has been modified so it cannot grow in humans. The spike glycoprotein from the virus that causes COVID-19 have then been added. “We are hoping to make the body recognize and develop an immune response to the Spike protein that will help stop the SARS-CoV-2 virus from entering human cells and therefore prevent infection,” the university said.
There will be some side effects. The trial volunteers have been warned that some may get a sore arm, headaches or fevers in the first couple of days after vaccination.
Who is being tested?
Up to 1,102 healthy volunteers between 18 and 55 years of age are being recruited for the trials in study sites across Oxford, Southampton, London and Bristol.
The first two volunteers, dosed by researchers at the University of Oxford on April 23, were a scientist and a cancer researcher. Six more volunteers were injected two days later, before the trial was expanded to include a much larger group.
In the first phase — currently being conducted — 550 participants are given the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine and 550 a control vaccine against meningitis and sepsis for comparison.
Participants, including three members of the same family in Oxfordshire, have been recording any symptoms and keeping an “e-diary” of their experiences. Blood samples are taken at a series of follow-up visits — the samples will then be used to assess the immune response to the vaccine. A separate group of 10 volunteers will receive two doses of the vaccine four weeks apart.
In Phase 2 the age of participants will be extended, before 5,000 volunteers take part in Phase 3.
When will it be available to the public?
The university said its best-case scenario is for an efficacy result from Phase 3 by the fall, alongside the ability to manufacture large amounts of the vaccine, but stressed the time frame was “highly ambitious and subject to change.”