Many laboratories around the world have been working round the clock to find an efficient vaccine to prevent the spread of the new Coronavirus. Researchers at the Jenner Institute, at Oxford University in England, have found promising results. Newspaper AD reported the laboratory is the only European project that successfully completed the phase of animal testing and has reached the stage of vaccinating volunteers. Three other projects are in the same phase in China and the United States.
A vaccine builds up a defense against an actual infection in the body by stimulating its own immune system. The body produces antibodies after the vaccine is injected, usually developed from a dead or attenuated virus. Roche, the multinational healthcare company, describes that in general it takes 10 to 12 years before a new vaccine is available to patients on a larger scale. The process of developing a new medicine goes through a lot of phases before the it is considered safe and effective to be prescribed. However, the regulations can be accelerated in crisis situations, such as the pandemic we are experiencing now, although specialists say patient safety should never be compromised. Scientists warn that a vaccine that does not have enough protection or a virus inhibitor that makes people sicker can become a worse cure than the disease itself.
The English trial drew international attention when Sarah Gilbert, a professor of vaccinology at Oxford, estimated the odds of having a working vaccine as early as September 2020 at 80%. “That’s more than a feeling, we have more data every week,” Gilbert told The Times. Commissioned by the researchers at Oxford, 1 million doses of the anti-Corona vaccine are already being produced in seven different laboratories around the world. If the study continues to be successful in the upcoming months, the vaccine could already be administered to the first groups – for example, healthcare providers – this autumn. Tens of millions of euros are involved in development and production. If the investigation freezes, these production costs should be considered lost.
The first volunteers to take the vaccine are healthy people between the ages of 18 to 55 years. Older age categories will be tested in a subsequent phase. In the final phase – scheduled for the end of summer – 5,000 volunteers will be required to test the vaccine.
Dutch professor is one of the volunteers in clinical trial
AD reported that Christiaan Monden (45), a Dutch professor living in Oxford, is a volunteer at the Jenner Institute. In 2010, Monden exchanged the Netherlands for England, where he became a professor of sociology and demography at the University of Oxford. “I can get a call at any time saying they will inject it. I secretly hope that I will be called to come back for more blood samples and that it will not stop after injecting the vaccine once.”
He is one of 510 people who signed up for the study. According to him, the risks are manageable. Monden believed joining the experiment would be a useful contribution to the search for a vaccine. “I saw a tweet from the Oxford vaccine group. They often look for people. They were looking for people in the area for their Covid-19 vaccine”, says the professor. “It is on the other side of Oxford and it offers me a nice excuse for a bike ride. The British lockdown rules are not entirely clear, but they always say on the BBC network that you can only go out once a day.”
After the application, the Dutch lecturer filled out a detailed questionnaire about his health. “Many people were willing to participate. You first had to pass the first selection. Before I signed up, I read a brochure that told me what to look out for. My main question was whether it was a vaccine that works by giving you the virus. That is not the case here. I have so much confidence in vaccines in general and in the reputation of this research group that it sounded okay.”
Monden says he had to “sign a pile of words about my health and voluntary participation. The form also said that you can get out at any time. If you become infected with the Coronavirus you will not receive priority treatment, but you must join the back of the queue at the NHS. This was followed by a standard medical examination in which blood and urine samples were taken.”
Additionally, a screening study followed. “That took 2.5 hours. First, they showed a video about the vaccine and the potential risks. This includes what they call the ‘theoretical risk’ that you will be hit harder by the Coronavirus than you would be without the vaccine. They consider the chance very unlikely. This new vaccine is based on a vaccine used against MERS and, although they have not seen such reactions, in theory it is possible.”
A few days later, Monden’s GP was consulted as well. The professor received the green light to participate in the study. “Now I can get a call any time that they are really going to inject it. I don’t know yet whether I will get the new vaccine or an existing one. About half of the participants are in a control group, receiving an existing vaccine.”
The first signs for the Oxford project definitely look promising – will this be the vaccine that the whole world is waiting for?
Written by Raphael Perachi Vieira