Updated: Oct 18, 2021
On July 20, Oxford University announced their development of a coronavirus vaccine that appears safe and triggers an immune response. The United Kingdom has already ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine, and the U.S. has announced an investment of up to 1.2 billion dollars if the first delivery, of at least 300 million doses, arrives by October.
The AZD1222 vaccine is genetically engineered from a virus which causes the common cold in chimpanzees. The vaccine uses the modified virus to deliver genetic instructions to cells to induce an immune response against the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. While it is safe, results from the vaccine trials determined that 70% of people on the trial developed either a fever or headache.
Between April and May, a total of 1,077 healthy male and female adults between the age of 18 and 55 in five UK centers took part in the randomised and controlled Phase I and II trials of the experimental vaccine. The participants were each given one dose and followed for about a month, 90% of whom developed neutralizing antibodies after one dose. Ten of them were given a second dose after 28 days, all of whom produced neutralizing antibodies. Oxford Lead Researcher Sarah Gilbert said the trial could not determine whether one or two doses would be needed to provide immunity.
More than 10,000 people will take part in the next stage of the trials in the UK. Although the results are currently promising, there are low levels of coronavirus in the UK, suggesting that the data may not be as accurate as possible since the situation is already somewhat controlled.
Therefore, there will be a larger trial involving 30,000 people in the U.S., 2,000 in South Africa, and 5,000 in Brazil. The vaccine may possibly be deemed effective before the end of the year, but it would take more time before widespread vaccination can take place and it is readily available. “We still need to see how the vaccine performs in older people, who are at more risk of severe disease than the people we’ve vaccinated in this study,” Gilbert said. “So that’s the subject of future work, and there’ll be more publications to come.”
“We hope this means the immune system will remember the virus, so that our vaccine will protect people for an extended period. However, we need more research before we can confirm the vaccine effectively protects against SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19) infection, and for how long any protection lasts,” lead author of the Oxford study Andrew Pollard told The Washington Post.
This vaccine in particular seems more promising than other vaccine candidates because it resulted in the strongest immune response and the side-effects were minimal in comparison to others.
This Oxford vaccine is not the first to be producing successful results; scientists in the U.S. and China have also published similar results. The Oxford vaccine induces the body to make T- cells, activating a second part of the immune system that experts increasingly believe will be important for a lasting immune response. The vaccine can cause both a humoral (mediated by antibodies) and cell-mediated (mediated by T-cells) immune response. Humoral immunity is quick while they act against antigens, while cell-mediated immunity shows a delay through permanent action against pathogens.
There were doubts around the Oxford vaccine in late May, since trials of the vaccine in monkeys showed the vaccine did not prevent the animals catching the virus, although there was evidence it may reduce the severity.
This was considered a doubt, since one Chinese virus trial that took place in April appeared to stop the development of COVID-19 in monkeys. That trial, conducted by Sinovac Biotech, a privately held Beijing-based company, used a modified version of the full Sars-Cov-2 virus in its vaccine, while the Oxford vaccine uses a common cold virus to try and provoke an immune response.
Despite the hesitation from May, experts still have “cautious optimism” towards the Oxford vaccine because all of the animals administered with a single shot of the vaccine generated antibodies against the virus within 28 days.
Some alternative methods are also being investigated, as some companies are taking the virus, inactivating it, and re-injecting it. There are currently 23 coronavirus vaccines in clinical trials around the world and another 140 in early stage development.
Results of a smaller study in Germany of a vaccine based on ribonucleic acid (RNA), a chemical messenger that contains instructions for making proteins, were also released by German biotech company BioNTech and Pfizer. This vaccine instructs cells to make proteins that mimic the outer surface of the coronavirus. The body recognizes these virus-like proteins as foreign invaders and can then mount an immune response against the actual virus. The vaccine induced virus-neutralizing antibodies when given two doses, a result in-line with a previous early-stage U.S. trial.
All of these vaccines are producing antibodies in recipients and clinical trials seem to show mostly favorable trials. Additionally, none of the leading vaccine candidates have shown side effects that would be detrimental to recipients, but all still have to prove that they can be administered safely to thousands, including people at a higher risk for COVID-19 (such as elders or diabetics).
Russian vaccine research in particular is evolving quickly, as they intend to produce a widespread vaccine in the next two weeks. Russia has released no scientific data on its vaccine testing and there are no claims on safety or effectiveness. There are concerns that the human testing is incomplete, which makes it hard to claim an effective vaccine in the span of two weeks.
While some global vaccines are in the third phase of trials, the Russian vaccine is yet to complete its second phase. “I do not exclude the possibility that the [US] will be one of the countries to approve the Russian vaccine, following clinical trials and approvals.” Kirill Dmitriev Head of Russia’s Sovereign Wealth Fund told CNN reporters.
Through Teen Lenses: What are your opinions on the newly developed Oxford vaccine? How do you feel about current approaches and results to combating the coronavirus? Do you think we are on the path to preventing new cases of COVID-19, or that we have far more room for improvement, and why?
“While the results from the newly developed Oxford vaccine are encouraging, there’s still a long way to go in achieving protection and herd immunity. Though we initially struggled around the world to get COVID under control, we’ve made significant progress since then. I think the most important thing that we can constantly improve on is testing, and continually wearing a mask and social distancing. Pratika Katiyar, 17, Rising Senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Fairfax, VA
“In the words of several medical experts, I am “cautiously optimistic” about the vaccine. I’m a little wary of the side effects; even though findings say there’s only a couple of them, there could very well be more that are twice as dangerous. In terms of our approach in handling COVID thus far, there is definitely work to be done. Masks and social distancing are effective in preventing the disease themselves, but since a lot of people aren’t taking these precautionary measures, it’s clear the virus is and will continue to spread.” Mahika Sharma, 15, Rising Sophomore at Chantilly High School, Chantilly, VA
“While I think it’s great that Oxford has taken the initiative to create a vaccine, it troubles me to know that the vaccine still has not proven to stop people from becoming ill, and it cannot even suppress patients’ symptoms of COVID-19. However, I think that the test results seem promising (in their ability to create antibodies and T-cells) for the time being, and I definitely feel better about the approaches that the world is taking to combat COVID-19. It finally feels like actions are being taken to stop the virus. I definitely think that this is the first part to preventing COVID-19 cases, and that it can only get better from here. Kavyesh Pasham, 15, Rising Sophomore at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Vienna, VA
“I think that Oxford creating a vaccine that can potentially combat the coronavirus provides a lot of hope for people that have it. As of now, there are certain medications that can be used to control the symptoms and this vaccine is a developing solution that can be used to eliminate the virus. So far, testing has been mostly positive and as long as that is the case, we can continue to hope and pray that the coronavirus chapter in our lives is closing, and more people won’t have to continue suffering from this every day.” Shriya Ramaka, 15, Rising Sophomore at Chantilly High School, Chantilly VA