Experts have warned that a working coronavirus vaccine is unlikely to be ready this year, telling people not to have ‘false expectations’ after ministers said they hope to have 30 million doses for the UK by September.
Both Oxford University and Imperial College London are working on vaccines, with the former now making a deal with the pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca to mass-produce its efforts if it turns out to be effective.
Company Secretary Alok Sharma said yesterday that the government hopes to roll out a massive vaccination program in the fall of this year.
But one of the professors involved in the imperial initiative today insisted on caution, saying that there are “no guarantees” that a working vaccine will be developed and that even if it is likely will be ready for mass production at the earliest next year.
Robin Shattock, chief of mucosal infection and immunity at Imperial, said it is “important not to have a false expectation that it is just around the corner.”
Imperial professor Robin Shattock said today that it could “take quite some time” for researchers to develop a working vaccine
Alok Sharma, the company secretary, said yesterday that the government hopes to have 30 million doses of a working vaccine for the UK by September
Oxford University has signed a deal with AstraZeneca to mass-produce the vaccine if it proves to be effective. Depicted is a person participating in the vaccine clinical trial
What is the difference between the vaccines being developed by Oxford University and Imperial College?
The science behind both vaccines hinges on recreating the ‘peak’ proteins found everywhere in the outside of the COVID-19 viruses.
Both will attempt to mimic or mimic these spikes in the body. The difference between the two is how they achieve this effect.
Imperial College London will attempt to deliver genetic material (RNA) from the coronavirus that programs cells in the patient’s body to recreate the spike proteins. It transports the RNA through liquid drops that are injected into the bloodstream.
The University of Oxford team, on the other hand, will genetically engineer a virus to look like the coronavirus – to have the same spike proteins on the outside – but cannot cause infection in a person.
Attenuated by genetic engineering, this virus is a type of virus called adenovirus, the same virus that causes colds and has been removed from chimpanzees.
If the vaccines can successfully mimic a person’s bloodstream peaks and stimulate the immune system to produce special antibodies to attack it, this could train the body to destroy the real coronavirus if they get there in the future get infected with it.
The same process is believed to happen in people who actually catch COVID-19, but this is much more dangerous – a vaccine has the same endpoint, but without causing disease.
Prof Shattock said there are an estimated 100 coronavirus vaccines in development around the world.
But the ‘most optimistic estimate’ would suggest that a successful method will not be ‘readily available for large-scale use early next year’.
He said it could “take quite a bit of time” for researchers to get all the data they need to prove beyond a doubt that a vaccine really works.
Asked whether the UK is “on the verge” of getting a working vaccine, Prof. Shattock told the BBC: “I think we need to distinguish two different things. One of the hurdles is making vaccine doses, of course AstraZeneca can and that’s a good thing, but that’s very different from having the data proving that the vaccine really works.
“We need that data to show that it’s ready and ready to roll out. It can take quite some time to get that data, it’s a numbers game.
And since we are better at reducing the number of infections in the UK, it becomes much more difficult to test whether the vaccine works or not.
“There are no certainties, no guarantees in developing any of these candidates, so I think it is important not to have a false expectation that it is just around the corner.
“It may be longer than any of us would think.”
Some health experts have suggested that a vaccine can take 18 months to develop, while others have warned that a vaccine will never be found.
Prof Shattock said, “I think we should keep the context here. Obviously there could be some success, we could see things work sooner if we get the numbers and the kind of AstraZeneca approach is preparing for that success.
“But it is likely very likely that we will only get real evidence early next year and then there is a difference between a UK solution that could be rolled out and a global solution.
“A global solution is likely to take much longer, if only because of the tremendous operational effort to create billions of doses and make them available worldwide.”
Prof Shattock said he believed there is a “very high probability that some vaccines will work” because he said the evidence suggested that coronavirus is “not as difficult a target as others.”
He added: “I have a feeling we will see some candidates arrive early next year with good evidence – possibly something this year.
“But they won’t be readily available for large-scale use as the most optimistic estimate early next year.”
Mr Sharma said yesterday at the Downing Street Daily Press Conference that the UK will have access to the vaccine developed by Oxford University for the first time if it is proven to work.
AstraZeneca and the university have signed a deal that would see the company make 100 million doses of the vaccine by September and 30 million ready for the UK.
Both Oxford University and Imperial College London vaccine projects are considered to be two of the ‘front runners’ in the world.
Sharma pledged another £ 84 million to accelerate vaccine development in Britain – on top of a previous £ 47 million pot – so mass production can start as soon as possible if clinical trials are successful.
A working vaccine is considered to be the only infallible way for the world to go back to something similar to normal life.
The Oxford vaccine is now in its first clinical trial and all phase one participants have now received their vaccine dose and are being monitored by the clinical trials team.
Mr. Sharma said: “I can also confirm that Oxford University has signed a worldwide licensing agreement with AstraZeneca for the commercialization and production of the Oxford vaccine with government support.
This means that if the vaccine is successful, AstraZeneca will work to make 30 million doses available to the UK by September as part of an agreement to deliver a total of 100 million doses.
“The UK will be the first to gain access and we can also ensure that, in addition to supporting people here in the UK, we can make the vaccine available to developing countries at the lowest possible cost.”