The world has finally seen its first-ever human trial of a COVID-19 vaccine. Two volunteers from Oxford, London were administered the vaccine, the first of more than 800 people recruited for the research. Half of the participants will receive the vaccine trial, while the remaining participants will have a ‘control vaccine’ against meningitis.
The only people who will know which people will receive their corresponding vaccines are the doctors and the team performing the trials. Microbiologist Elsa Granato, one of the first volunteers, expressed her optimism and willingness in the name of science. “I’m a scientist, so I wanted to try to support the scientific process wherever I can,” Granato said.
The team that developed the vaccine in under three months in the pre-clinical research was led by a woman, Sarah Gilbert, professor of vaccinology at the Jenner Institute.
The vaccine used in the trial came from the ‘weakened version of the adenovirus—a common cold virus from chimpanzees. The scientists in the vaccine trial were able to modify the virus, so it cannot thrive in our bodies. Researchers took genes for the spike protein on the surface of coronavirus. Afterward, they put the protein into a harmless virus for the vaccine trial.
When the vaccine is injected into a human being, it enters the cells and produces the spike protein. As a result, the patient’s immune system produces antibodies and activates killer T-cells. Once these defenses are activated, they will destroy cells infected by COVID-19.
Should the patient encounter the COVID-19 pathogen, your body will respond again to trigger the same antibodies and T-cells to combat the virus before it harms your body.
The clinical trial of this vaccine will be deemed successful upon comparing the volunteers’ results with the number of people to be infected in the next few months. This scenario could still be problematic should the number of COVID-19 cases suddenly fall. There might not be sufficient data to validate if the vaccine does work.
“We’re chasing the end of this current epidemic wave. If we don’t catch that, we won’t be able to tell whether the vaccine works in the next few months. But we do expect that there will be more cases in the future because this virus hasn’t gone away,” said Prof. Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group.
The same institute was responsible for producing successful treatments for Mers and Ebola. Despite the odds stacked against them, researchers say that their vaccine trials will lead the way in creating an effective cure ready to be administered to the public this September.
Meanwhile, the institute also pours effort in recruiting healthcare workers in the vaccine trial since first-responders and health professionals in the front lines are exposed to the virus.
“Personally I have a high degree of confidence in this vaccine,” Professor Gilbert said.
“Of course, we have to test it and get data from humans. We have to demonstrate it actually works and stops people getting infected with coronavirus before using the vaccine in the wider population,” the professor added.
The professor was ‘80% confident’ the vaccine would work. But prefers not to put a figure on it, she is simply ‘very optimistic’ about its chances that it would work.
As of today, the United Kingdom has 143,000 confirmed cases, with 19,506 recorded deaths. In response to these numbers, scientists have pursued more trials from over 5,000 volunteers for the next months while
Take a closer look of UK’s remarkable feat by watching the video below: