Everything we know about the University of Oxford covid-19 vaccine

Tom Costello August 24, 2020
Everything we know about the University of Oxford covid-19 vaccine
Photo by STEVE PARSONS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

US President Donald Trump is reportedly considering fast-tracking the approval of a covid-19 vaccine made by the University of Oxford, in order to have it administered to the American public before November’s presidential election.

This vaccine has already caught international attention and it appears to be the most realistically promising coronavirus vaccine to date.

So, what do we know about this vaccine so far? What are its chances of success and when, if ever, could we expect it to be available to the public?

Unprecedented speed

The Oxford covid-19 Vaccine team says it is working at an unprecedented speed in a race against the global threat to human health that is coronavirus.

When a drug or vaccine goes through clinical trials, it must go through three phases of testing before receiving FDA approval and going through a final fourth phase of testing.

These phases of testing include ever increasing number of participants who have volunteered to receive the vaccine to test its effectiveness. For example, phase one tests are performed on 20 to 80 participants, phase 2 tests on 100 to 300 participants, phase 3 tests on 1000 to 3000 participants and the fourth and final phase (after FDA approval) tests on 1000+ participants.

Photo by STEVE PARSONS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Oxford’s vaccine team is already well into phase 3 testing after its phase 1 and 2 results appear to show no early safety concerns and crucially, that the vaccine stimulates an immune response in those it is administered to.

T cell response

The vaccine provoked a T cell response within 14 days of vaccination (T cells are white blood cells that attack cells infected with coronavirus) and after 28 days, it stimulated an antibody response (antibodies neutralise the virus so that it cannot continue to infect other cells).

The next stage of testing is to determine whether the vaccine can protect against infection. In other words, we know so far that the vaccine can kill the virus once someone has been infected but there is no evidence yet that it can protect someone from that initial infection.

The University of Oxford is producing this vaccine in co-operation with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which will manufacture the vaccine. The UK government has given £84 million in funding to accelerate the University of Oxford’s work on the vaccine.

Despite these very promising results so far, the University of Oxford is keen for the vaccine to pass all phases of testing before announcing it as a fully working vaccine. They may not even give Trump permission to fast-track their vaccine before they know it works.

Dangers of rushing things

This is because an unsuccessful vaccine, or even worse, a vaccine that produces harmful side effects, may greatly deter anxious citizens from volunteering for a working vaccine.

It is this logic that has caused fears that Russia’s coronavirus vaccine has not been adequately tested enough and its potential failure could be a disaster for convincing people to take the vaccine.

On the other hand, the University of Oxford team may actually be keen to see the vaccine administered to the American public. This is because the vaccine needs to be administered in countries where the virus is rife, such as the United States and Brazil, in order to test its full effectiveness.

Volunteers in Brazil have already been receiving a trial vaccine from the University of Oxford, in Latin America’s first phase 3 covid-19 clinical trial.

Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The UK has signed deals for more than 340 million doses of this potential Coronavirus vaccine. That means with its total stockpile, there will be enough of this vaccine to give each person in Britain five doses. Most vaccines take two doses to be effective.

When could the University of Oxford covid-19 vaccine be made available?

Phase three results are expected in September next month so we could have a fully working coronavirus vaccine in existence by then. Mass production of this vaccine has already begun in preparation for that possibility so in the best-case scenario, the vaccine could be available to the public before the end of this year.

This would make it the fastest-produced vaccine in history so as you can imagine, we must take this prediction with a pinch of salt.

Recently, the World Health Organisation’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that a vaccine ‘won’t end the pandemic on its own’ and that individuals will still need to take responsibility for slowing the spread themselves too. The WHO chief added, ‘we hope this pandemic will be over in two years’.

The worst-case scenario: further tests might show that the vaccine is a failure and doesn’t provide the level of protection that is needed to be viable.

On average, only 7% of vaccines manufactured are successful, so the vast majority of them are failures.

There is much speculation over when or if we will get a vaccine but unfortunately, we just don’t have the answer to that one yet.

However, when you think about how the world’s greatest scientists are focused on solving this problem and that there are now over 170 vaccine candidates (with 15 of them already undergoing human trials), surely someone, somehow, somewhere has to win this race for a vaccine at some point.

Out of these candidates for a vaccine, the University of Oxford covid-19 vaccine is the most scientifically promising vaccine to date and the leading candidate for a working vaccine that could save the world and end this pandemic.

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