In Depth

Coronavirus: Oxford vaccine shows ‘encouraging’ results

UK-made vaccine joins list of potential pandemic-ending vaccines

The Oxford Covid vaccine has shown a strong immune response in adults in their 60s and 70s, further boosting hopes that a successful vaccine could be just around the corner.

Researchers say phase two findings, based on 560 healthy adult volunteers, are “encouraging”, the BBC reports. Larger trials to establish whether the immune response stops people developing Covid-19 are expected to deliver results in the next few weeks.

Two other vaccines - one develope by Pfizer and BioNTech and another by Moderna - have already demonstrated effective protection.

Oxford Vaccine Group, University of Oxford

The Oxford Covid vaccine, long thought to be one of the leading Covid-19 candidates, has been found to trigger a robust immune response in healthy adults aged 56 to 69 and over 70, two of the most vulnerable demographics.

The trial demonstrated similar immune responses across all three age groups studied: 18 to 55, 56 to 69 and 70 and over.

The drug is based on an adenovirus - a mild virus found in chimpanzees - which has been modified to carry a spike protein from the new coronavirus. Harmless in isolation, it will prime the immune system to fight off similar proteins, allowing it to defend itself against Covid-19.

“We anticipate efficacy read-outs from phase 2/3 trials between now and the end of the year,” a spokesperson for manufacturer AstraZeneca said. “If approved within countries, doses of the potential vaccine could be available for use before the end of the year.”

Moderna vaccine

In an interim analysis published on Monday, US pharmaceutical firm Moderna revealed that its vaccine has an efficacy of 94.5%.

The results showed that only five of the 95 subjects who tested positive during trials had been given the vaccine, compared with 90 who had not been given any treatment.

There were around 30,000 people in the study in total, each receiving either two doses of the jab or two placebos.

Moderna will now apply to the US regulator, the Food and Drug Administration, for emergency-use authorisation in the coming weeks, The Guardian says.

Moderna also said that the vaccine has been shown to last for up to 30 days in household fridges and at room temperature for up to 12 hours. This suggests it can be “stored and transported much more easily than a Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine”, Sky News reports.

It also remains stable at -20C, equal to most household or medical freezers, for up to six months.

Pfizer vaccine

The German firm Pfizer, which hopes to have a vaccine out by Christmas, had earlier predicted a working vaccine by the end of October.

Despite missing this deadline, the company has taken a significant lead in the race to develop a vaccine with the announcement that the first interim results in large-scale trials show the treatment is 90% effective.

According to The Guardian, the firm’s analysis “shows a much better performance than most experts had hoped for and brings into view a potential end” to the pandemic.

The paper adds that the company has claimed that there have been “no serious side-effects while the high percentage of those protected makes the findings especially compelling”.

The vaccine has been tested on 43,500 people in six countries, with no safety concerns having been raised. The developers described it as a "great day for science and humanity".

BCG vaccine

Scientists in India say the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine, which primarily provides protection against tuberculosis (TB), is also beneficial against coronavirus disease (Covid-19) among elderly people.

This vaccination has long been known to “enhance the innate immune response” to a range of other infections, including viruses that attack the respiratory system, says a research article published in The Lancet.

As trials were held in the Netherlands and Australia to evaluate its performance, a paper in the journal Nature, Professor Mihai Netea, who is leading the Dutch research, said that even if BCG doesn’t offer comprehensive protection against the coronavirus, it “may well be a bridge to a specific Covid-19 vaccine”.

Chinese vaccines 

State media in China says hundreds of thousands of people have already received Covid-19 vaccine shots.

“Beijing’s government, including its military and several state-backed firms, has committed hundreds of millions of dollars and cleared regulatory barriers to accelerate research and development,” The Wall Street Journal says. 

The result is no fewer than five potential vaccines. All use the traditional approach of injecting a weakened or deactivated virus to stimulate immunity. 

Any found to be effective will be widely distributed within China and around the world, the government says - but Beijing may face some reluctance from overseas buyers. 

“China has suffered from years of scandals – counterfeits run rampant and expired vaccines have been tampered with and repackaged,” The Telegraph reports. “Poor refrigeration in storage and transport have also ruined vaccines.” Even among Chinese consumers, the newspaper adds, “those who can afford it opt for imported over domestic vaccines”.

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