Stopping the COVID-19 pandemic depends on finding a successful vaccine just as a vaccine helped to stop the scourge of polio. Until we have a safe and effective vaccine, the only way we have to slow down the pandemic is to keep infected people away from those who have not yet been infected. Last week I reported that eleven companies have been approved by the FDA to start developing potential vaccines, and that according to the World Health Organization, more than 70 different vaccines are already being tested. The government is now in the process of speeding up research and relaxing restrictions so we can have a vaccine as soon as possible.
The exciting news this week is that Oxford University in England has developed a vaccine and will start trials on more than 6,000 people on Thursday, April 30, 2020, to see if their new vaccine is safe and effective (New York Times, April 27, 2020). If it is, the Oxford scientists could have several million doses of their vaccine available by September, way ahead of every other prospective vaccine.
Why This Vaccine is Different and Exciting
This is not a conventional vaccine. They took a similar virus, neutralized it against causing disease, and then genetically modified it so that it would cause the human body to produce antibodies specifically for COVID-19. This approach was originally discovered when they were working on a vaccine against malaria.
This vaccine is particularly promising because:
• Their similar vaccine has already proved to be effective against MERS, a respiratory disease caused by a coronavirus that is closely related to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
• Researchers at the National Institutes of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratory in Montana reported last month that the Oxford vaccine completely protected six rhesus macaque monkeys against infection with the coronavirus after four weeks of very heavy exposure.