Fantastic news emerged on the afternoon of the 20th July that the vaccine being developed jointly between Oxford University and AstraZeneca had been confirmed to be safe and induces an antibody response to the SARS-CoV-2 infection. It will now move to the next stage of research to demonstrate whether or not it can effectively protect against the virus.
Ahead of the Competition
This now places the team from Oxford and AstraZeneca ahead of a great number of other research units and biopharmaceutical teams who are also conducting trials and places them as a front runner to find a vaccine which is both effective and can be manufactured on a large scale and distributed globally.
Altogether, more than 140 teams of scientists around the world are working to develop and test different vaccines and bring them to market as quickly and safely as possible. Each is employing many different strategies and cutting-edge technologies in new and innovative ways as enablers to secure a positive result.
While it usually takes years to bring a vaccine to market, the rapid spread of COVID-19 has led to a superhuman effort to fast track this process through development and into the three phases of human clinical trials. This effort saw clinical trials commencing only two months after the virus was first identified, which is almost unheard of.
As of the middle of July 2020, 23 of the vaccine candidates had made it to these trials with the most advanced of them (including the University of Oxford / AstraZeneca) already embarking on Phase 3 (the final trial before approval) with a further eleven candidates who have already commenced Phase 2 of the trials.
The Effect of Multiple Vaccines
While many of the vaccine candidates will fail somewhere in the process (often as high as 90%), there is a confidence that the COVID programme will yield a number of vaccines and this in itself can be an advantage.
- The more vaccines produced using different raw materials, the better the potential availability, allowing for increased production.
- Some vaccines may be more suitable for some populations or genetic groups of people. This may not be a “one size fits all” vaccine, and others used in parallel have often proved to be advantageous.
- Multiple vaccines under production can allow for improved manufacturing and distribution globally.
When will the General Public receive the Vaccine?
As I stated earlier, it can take years and sometimes decades to develop and mass-produce a vaccine, but many experts believe that with the COVID vaccine, we may have something widely available in mid-2021 – only around 18 months since the virus emerged.
Sadly, there is no guarantee that this will happen as there is also a chance that the trials may fail at the final hurdle. It isn’t something that anyone wants to think about, but with the statistics on failure rates being so high in the past, it is something that we must keep in mind.
Until a vaccine can be found – and a programme to deliver it on a mass scale realised – the best method of protecting against the virus remains to be vigilant and to follow the government guidelines about hand sanitising, using face masks when possible and staying at home as much as we can. Staying safe will continue to save lives.