Results from trials taking place at Oxford University show that vaccine ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, which is currently undergoing trials, is safe for humans and provokes an immune response. Trials testing over 1,077 individuals showed that the vaccine triggered the body into making antibodies and T-cells which could fight the coronavirus. The UK has already ordered over 100 million doses of this particular vaccine, even though it is unclear how much protection it provides.
What is the good news?
In nine out of 10 people the vaccine prompted the body into creating neutralising antibodies to defend cells against the virus. Although nearly three quarters developed a fever or headache, there were no serious side effects. Results show that the vaccine is safe to use and that it provides an immune response that lasts for at least 56 days, which was the final day of the study.
How does the vaccine work?
The vaccine is based on a common cold virus that infects chimpanzees, and was weakened so it couldn’t harm humans. Researchers edited its structure so that it coded for the spike protein of Sars-Cov-2, which is the virus that causes Covid-19. When this weakened virus enters someone's vaccinated cells, it causes their cells to produce the spike protein, which trains their immune system to recognise the foreign protein and produce the antibodies to protect against the virus.
How long dose the vaccine need to last?
A study on monkeys found that the animals could catch coronavirus but couldn’t be re-infected 28 days after they recovered. To be useful, the vaccine would need to provide protection for at least half a year. Current studies did not reveal anything about this area, but there will be more trials taking place and these should be able to provide more information.
How important is this?
Of course, it is unclear whether this vaccine can be used against coronavirus, but this is the first step in finding a vaccine, and a negative result would have been very bad news. However, now it is clear that the vaccine is safe and does kick-start the immune system, researchers can explore whether it provides immunity for those people exposed to the virus.
Over 90% of the participants in the study were white and the average age was 35. So more studies will be needed to assess whether the vaccine is safe for all ages, health conditions and ethnic backgrounds. Also, the rate of infection is relatively low in the UK, so there is potential for many people to not come into contact with the virus. More trials are therefore being organised in not only the UK but also Brazil and South Africa.
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