There is only a ‘slim’ chance Oxford University’s coronavirus jab will be ready to go before Christmas, the government’s vaccine tsar admitted today.
As cases and hospital admissions surge in Britain, chair of the UK Vaccine Taskforce Kate Bingham said she is hopeful that trials will show signs of success by the end of the year but warned there is no guarantee.
Oxford’s jab, which works by transporting a fragment of the coronavirus into the body on-board another virus, is the global front-runner in the bid to stop the disease.
Early data from clinical trials suggest the vaccine is safe for people to receive and appears to trigger the correct type of immune response.
Hopes for ending the pandemic currently hinge on finding a jab that works as soon as possible. Without a vaccine or a cure – neither of which yet exist – there is no way to stop Covid-19.
Ms Bingham’s comments come after England’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, suggested last month the most vulnerable people in England could start receiving the vaccine before the end of 2020, with a wider public roll-out next year.
Kate Bingham, who was a biotech investor before being drafted in to help develop a vaccine for coronavirus, is pictured with a plaster on her arm after receiving the experimental coronavirus vaccine made by US firm Novavax
Ms Bingham said there is a ‘slim’ chance that Oxford’s vaccine could be done by the new year
Ms Bingham, who was a biotech investor before being drafted in to help develop a vaccine for coronavirus, said: ‘I think it’s a slim chance, but there is a chance, that we could have the Oxford vaccine before Christmas.’
The Oxford jab is currently in phase three trials, which are the final stage experiments done on a huge group of people to prove whether it works.
It has already proven to be safe in earlier tests on small groups and has now been given to more than 30,000 people in the UK, US, Brazil and South Africa.
Scientists will be looking at whether people who have had the jab have lower rates of positive tests than the general public, and whether they have significant levels of antibodies – immune substances equipped to fight the virus – in their blood in the weeks and months after receiving the vaccine.
If antibodies stay high, positive cases appear lower than in the non-vaccinated population, and participants have lower hospitalisation and death rates, the jab may be considered a success.
If this were to happen, the UK has already ordered 100million doses of the jab and Prime Minister Boris Johnson insists the country is first in line to get it.
Ms Bingham said that she felt ‘optimistic’ from the positive data seen so far.
She is also hoping to see late-stage data from another vaccine made by Pfizer and NBioTech, which is in similar stages of tests.
Others from the companies Valneva, Novavax, Johnson & Johnson and GlaxoSmithKline have also been bought by Britain and could be successful.
‘If everything works, yes it’s possible we could get a vaccine this year but it’s most likely that it’ll be next year,’ Ms Bingham said.
She said the vaccines the UK had placed orders for were ‘spread across the ones that are most advanced through to the ones that we think are most likely to work and be safest.’
JAB FOR VULNERABLE ‘COULD BE READY THIS YEAR’
The British Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said last month that the country could still get its hand on a coronavirus vaccine before Christmas.
Sir Patrick said it is ‘possible’ one of the dozens of experimental jabs being trialed on humans could be ready before 2021, insisting ‘good progress’ was being made.
Sir Patrick Vallance
In televised address to the nation he said: ‘It is possible that some vaccine could be available before the end of the year in small amounts for certain groups.’
Matt Hancock has already promised the most vulnerable members of society will be the first to be vaccinated against Covid-19, with the elderly first in line.
But Sir Patrick admitted it is ‘more likely’ that a vaccine — which is likely to require two doses to work — will be ready for the nation ‘over the first half of next year’.
And the Health Secretary revealed ministers were looking at ‘the first bit of next year’ for the mass roll-out of any jab proven to work.
Number 10 has already bought 340million doses of seven different experimental jabs, including the one created by Oxford University researchers.
She added: ‘I am optimistic that we will see something – four of our six vaccines are now in phase three studies, and in each of them we’ve seen very positive data in the phase one and two clinical studies.
‘[This] shows that people who have received the vaccine do elicit a strong immune response, and that, and if you take the neutralising antibodies that are triggered those antibodies are able to kill live Covid virus.
‘So that is very positive and it’s as good as it can be at the moment.
‘And we now need to see whether or not those immune responses that we see translate into into protection.’
The vaccine expert said that it is unlikely that the first jab proven to work will be a silver bullet.
More likely is that it will offer a low level of protection which is able to stop people becoming seriously ill or dying, potentially reducing Covid-19 to something more like a flu or mild chest infection.
Any vaccine will likely require more than one dose, she said.
‘The ideal is that you get vaccinated and then you’re protected from infection for life,’ Ms Bingham said.
‘Then the other extreme, the other bookend as it were, would be it doesn’t stop infection, but just reduces the severity of symptoms.
‘And frankly, I think anything that that falls in that spectrum, would be a plus.’
She continued: ‘The vaccines we have for flu are about 50 per cent effective, and they are annual shots, based on the strain that emerges each summer which we then get vaccinated for the winter.
‘So, I think it would be fair to say, we shouldn’t assume it’s going to be for the moment, better than a flu vaccine.
‘Because that’s an equivalent – it’s a mutating virus and it’s a respiratory virus that gets in through the nose and eyes and respiratory tract.’
Ms Bingham, who is taking part in the Novavax vaccine trial herself, is urging elderly people and people from black, Asian and minority ethnic groups to come forward to join the vaccine trials.
At the moment more than nine in 10 people on the trial (93 per cent) are white, 4 per cent are Asian and less than 0.5 per cent are black.
She added: ‘What we don’t know is will the vaccines work in everybody?
‘And that’s why we’re running the clinical studies, and that’s why we’ve got a call to arms to say to those people who are most at risk of infection – we need them to step up to get to join the vaccine trials so we can show that the vaccines work.’
It comes as the Johnson & Johnson trial of its Covid-19 vaccine has been paused due to illness in one participant.
But experts stressed that trial pauses are a common aspect of clinical research.
The Oxford University study was also paused temporarily in September after a participant fell ill, but has since resumed in the UK. The American arm of the trial remains on pause while officials assess the data.
Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: ‘Normally pauses in recruitment in a trial do not reach the public domain.
‘They are frequent where thousands of healthy people are given something new, notably a vaccine.
‘The fact that trials are paused should indicate that there should be confidence in the whole process of monitoring the safety of trial participants is working well.’
To sign up to the vaccine registry, visit www.nhs.uk/researchcontact.
Race for a coronavirus vaccine: Nine candidates in final stage of clinical trials
As scientists race to develop a coronavirus vaccine to bring the world back to normal, MailOnline has taken a look at the prospective candidates.
Vaccine trials were halted on Wednesday but it may still be ready this year
The Oxford Vaccine
When will it be ready?: The end of 2020/ early 2021. Despite the trials being suspended on Wednesday, its developers and Number 10 remain confident that the vaccine could be ready for use either at the end of this year or early next year. They say a pause is common in trials, and that its development was also stopped in July after a suspected side-effect was detected.
How does it work?: The vaccine works by exposing participants to a weakened common cold adenovirus which has had proteins from the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 attached to its surface. The idea is that the exposure allows the immune system to build an immune response, meaning they are protected if they are infected by the real virus.
Has the UK secured doses?: Yes, 100 million. The US has secured a further 300 million doses, along with several other countries. These will be rolled out in an equitable manner.
How much does it cost?: AstraZeneca, which is developing the vaccine with Oxford University, has said it will not profit from the it, but may earn extra royalties if the coronavirus becomes an endemic infection like flu. The US has spent $1.2 billion (£930 million) securing doses, meaning they are worth $4 (£3.10) each.
Biontech vaccine may be ready this year
When will it be ready?: At the end of this year, say researchers. The vaccine is being developed by a German company in partnership with American drugmaker Pfizer. It is recruiting 30,000 volunteers to its stage three trials.
How does it work?: This is an RNA vaccine, a type that has never been approved by regulators before. It will involve injecting a fragment of genetic material from coronavirus into participants. This will expose their immune systems to a weakened version of the virus and, hopefully, trigger a response which will protect them from the real virus.
Has the UK secured doses?: Yes, 30 million doses. The US has also ordered 100 million doses.
Price?: The US is paying $2 billion (£1.5 billion) for its doses, or about $20 (£15) a jab.
Moderna vaccine entered human trials
When will it be ready?: Very end of this year or next year. The vaccine has recruited 20,000 participants for its stage three trials. Providing no potential side effects are observed, it will then go through to a second test on more patients next month. This means it could be available by the end of 2020.
How does it work?: This is an RNA-based vaccine, similar to the one being developed by Biontech.
Has the UK secured doses?: No. Reports suggest the UK’s task force has not managed to secure any doses of this vaccine.
How much does it cost?: The US has ordered 100 million doses at a price of $1.5 billion (£1.1 billion). This means one jab costs $32 (£25).
Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline, UK and France
Sanofi vaccine won’t be available this year
When will it be ready?: First half of 2021. The vaccine entered phase two clinical trials in September, involving 440 adults. It will reach phase three trials in December this year. There may be setbacks along the way, meaning the vaccine could take longer to develop.
How does it work?: Participants are injected with DNA coding for the antigens of the coronavirus and a chemical which makes it more potent. It is hoped this will trigger an immune response.
Has the UK secured doses?: Yes. Up to 60 million will be supplied should the vaccine be shown to work.
How much does it cost?: Unknown. This information has not been provided.
Sputnik V, Russia
Sputnik V is safe, according to Kremlin, but it has been criticised by scientists
When will it be ready?: ‘Imminently’. The Russian medical research institute and Russian defence ministry have developed this vaccine. But it has faced serious criticism both inside and outside Russia because results from its human trials are yet to be published. It also hasn’t cleared large human trials, with researchers only launching one involving 40,000 volunteers on 26 August. Scientists say the vaccine has been rushed without proper checks, and could pose a risk to those taking it. The Kremlin began appealing for volunteers for the vaccine this week after a first batch was produced, according to the TASS news agency.
How does it work?: The Russian vaccine works by carrying a piece of the coronavirus genetic code into a participant via another virus. It is hoped this will produce an immune response.
Has the UK secured doses?: No. Countries lining up to try the vaccine include Mexico, which has secured 32 million doses, and Kazakhstan, which is set to buy two million.
How much does it cost?: The price of the vaccine is yet to be revealed.
It is not clear when the Sinovac vaccine will be available
When will it be ready?: Unknown. The vaccine entered final-stage trials in Brazil in July, and then in Indonesia in August. Results show that while younger and middle-aged people produced antibodies, older people had a weaker immune response. The vaccine was given emergency approval for limited use in July, reports suggest, although it appears to still be subject to testing. It was previously reported as being second only to the Oxford vaccine, but its complete test results are yet to be published. It is one of four vaccine candidates in development in China.
How does it work?: It involves injecting patients with an inactivated form of the virus, prompting their immune systems to develop a response.
Has the UK secured doses?: Unknown. Reports suggest no doses have been secured.
How much does it cost?: China is yet to publish this information.