Race against time
Kevin Yu discusses the journey towards a Coronavirus vaccine
As we enter the eighth month of this virus-ridden year, many of us will be wondering when- and even if- COVID-19 will subside. Whilst the emergency laws and restrictions imposed by the British government have managed to tame the rise in cases, the most likely way of eradicating this virus is via a vaccine. But how close are we?
According to the World Health Organisation, there are currently over 130 COVID vaccine candidates in development, with 23 of those undergoing clinical testing on humans. One of those leading the pack is Oxford University’s ChAdOx1 prototype.
There are currently over 130 COVID vaccine candidates in development
The recently published clinical test results of ChAdOx1 have been promising – from a randomized trial of about 1000 volunteers, those who received the vaccine were shown to have produced a significant immune response. Furthermore, no major side effects were reported 28 days after vaccination. This has prompted an excited response from the UK government, who have ordered 100 million doses of the final product- if it were to be successful.
However, there is still a long way to go. Under normal circumstances, vaccines take around 10 years to be fully developed and ratified for public use, including three major phases of clinical human trials. Fast-tracking this process won’t necessarily accelerate the delivery of the final product, which has been touted to be ready by next year. There will likely be setbacks that need to be overcome.
This is especially since ChAdOx1 is about to face its biggest test yet – phase 3 clinical trials. The current trials (phase 1 and 2) were performed on healthy volunteers, between 18 to 55 years old, of whom 91% were white. Phase 2/3 will significantly expand the sample size used, to about 10,000 subjects, which will require rigorous planning and maintenance. It will also feature subjects who are more vulnerable to the virus, such as older adults (55 years and above) and children (between 5 to 12 years old). The endgame of this phase 3 is to pinpoint the most successful candidate, for protection against the disease.
ChAdOx1 is about to face its biggest test yet- Phase 3 clinical trials
Then comes the issue of regulatory approval and distribution, with supplies of any successful vaccine likely to be limited at the point of release. It is therefore important that those who are most vulnerable to the virus receive the treatment first – a sentiment which is thankfully shared by health secretary Matt Hancock.
Although the odds appear to be stacked against finding a COVID-19 vaccine anytime soon, a huge amount of time and money has been invested in order to give us the best possible chance. Regardless of the vaccine hunt, we must also play our part in defeating this virus- by continuing to observe social distancing and maintaining our personal hygiene.