As scientists around the world race to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, researchers at Oxford University have now pulled into the lead. The team recently began testing a vaccine candidate in people that—if effective—could possibly become available as early as September, the New York Times reported on April 27. That would be well before any other vaccine effort currently underway is expected to reach the finish line.
The researchers were able to move swiftly because they had already developed a vaccine candidate for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), a virulent respiratory disease caused by another member of the coronavirus family. Last year they showed that the vaccine was safe in people and prompts an immune response that lasts for at least a year. In January, the group began adapting the technique to create a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19.
By the end of May, the scientists will begin a larger trial with 5,000 volunteers and follow them over time to see if the vaccine actually prevents people from catching COVID-19. How long it takes to show that the vaccine is effective will depend on how the pandemic plays out. If the United Kingdom’s outbreak of COVID-19 calms down and fewer people in the community become infected over the summer, it will be more difficult to tell how much protection the vaccine offers.
More than 90 different vaccines for COVID-19 are under development in labs around the world, and at least six have moved into human trials. The more vaccines we can test, the greater the odds that one—or better yet, several—will turn out to work. At that point, vaccines would likely be given first to people who are especially vulnerable to becoming seriously ill from COVID-19, including the elderly and those with underlying conditions.
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