In Depth

Reaction: Covid vaccine hopes raised by Oxford trial results

Scientists from university-led team say their jab may offer ‘double defence’ against coronavirus

Scientists have taken a leap forward in the race to develop a Covid-19 vaccine as initial trials suggest that an Oxford University-developed jab may provide a “double defence” against the coronavirus.

A senior source on the project told The Telegraph that blood samples taken from volunteers in the first phase of human testing indicate that the vaccine stimulates the body to produce both antibodies and “killer” T-cells.

The trial involved about 1,000 volunteers, who are “are understood to have shown encouraging levels of neutralising antibodies, thought to be important in protecting against viral infection”, says The Times.

“No serious side-effects” were reported, the newspaper adds, although as The Telegraph points out, “further work will be needed” to ensure that “the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine is safe”.

“The team is also evaluating the level of dose needed to produce an effective response,” according to The Telegraph.

“I can tell you that we now know the Oxford vaccine covers both bases - it produces both a T-cell and an antibody response,” the inside source told the paper. “It’s the combination of these two that will hopefully keep people safe. So far, so good. It’s an important moment. But we still have a long way to go.”

Another source close to the team confirmed that the presence of both antibodies and T-cells could act as a “double defence” against Covid-19.

Researchers have not yet proved conclusively that the combined immune response is enough to combat infection, but had the vaccine not produced both T-cells and antibodies, “it would have been a setback” to the Oxford project, The Times says. A source told the paper that “the Oxford team are very much still in the fight”. 

The full findings of the phase one Oxford trial will be published in The Lancet on Monday.

Appearing on ITV’s Peston last night, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that in the best-case scenario, the vaccine would be available later this year. But the jab is “more likely” be ready in 2021, he added.

However, hopes that the jab may be ready sooner have been raised by David Carpenter, chair of the Berkshire Research Ethics Committee, which approved the Oxford trial.

Carpenter told The Telegraph that the vaccine team were “absolutely on track”, adding: “Things might go wrong but the reality is that by working with a big pharma company, that vaccine could be fairly widely available around September and that is the sort of target they are working on.”

The vaccine development is being supported by the UK government and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, which has reached agreements to supply up to two billion doses worldwide. 

AstraZeneca shares jumped by 5.5% yesterday after ITV political editor Robert Peston revealed that there would be “positive news soon” about the outcome of the initial trials. 

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