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A pharmacist holds a tray with a syringe containing a shot that will be used in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, March 16, 2020, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle.
Ted S. Warren / AP
Health

UK’s COVID-19 Vaccine Trial Successfully Trains Immune System to Respond to Disease

Why Global Citizens Should Care
A safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19 is one of the best ways to save lives and for the world to start to recover from this pandemic. However, it’s vital that any future vaccine is available to everyone, everywhere, because only then will we all truly be safe from COVID-19. Join the movement by taking action on this urgent issue here.


The results from the first phase of human trials for a vaccine against COVID-19, conducted by Oxford University in the UK, have been published. These results show that the vaccine is safe and appears to successfully train the immune system to respond to disease.

The findings from the research, conducted by the university’s Jenner Institute and the Oxford Vaccine Group, were published to much applause in the Lancet medical journal on July 20.

The editor of the journal, Richard Horton, announced on Twitter: “The vaccine is safe, well-tolerated, and immunogenic,” he tweeted. “Congratulations to Pedro Folegatti and colleagues. These results are extremely encouraging.” 

The trial involved 1,077 people aged between 18 and 55 who volunteered to take the injection, labelled ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, between April 23 and May 21 this year. Some were given a placebo injection — meaning a fake version of the vaccine as a control measure — and 10 were given a second booster shot of the vaccine candidate.

Studies of the volunteers showed that they had developed antibodies (small proteins that stick to cells and can neutralise the virus so that it cannot infect other cells) and T-cells (a type of white blood cell that can attack virus-infected cells) that can work to fight coronavirus, a statement on the university’s website explained.

The injection provoked the development of T-cells within 14 days and the antibody response within 28 days. There were no serious adverse health events related to people taking the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 dose, the university's statement added.

Professor Andrew Pollard, one of the researchers, told the BBC: "We're really pleased with the results published today as we're seeing both neutralising antibodies and T-cells. They're extremely promising and we believe the type of response that may be associated with protection."

"But the key question everyone wants to know is does the vaccine work, does it offer protection... and we're in a waiting game,” Pollard added.

He went on to say that while 90% of the volunteers who received only one dose produced neutralising antibodies, all of the people who received a second dose developed neutralising antibodies — suggesting that a second dose helped it to be effective.

"We don't know the level needed for protection, but we can maximise responses with a second dose," Pollard said.

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The results published in the Lancet are preliminary, reported the Guardian, with the effect of the vaccine measured by the amount of antibodies and T-cells it generates in the blood of the volunteers, not in any response to the virus itself.

Oxford and AstraZeneca — a multinational pharmaceutical company partly funding the research — are now collaborating with clinical partners around the world as part of a global programme to progress to the next phase of the vaccine trial, involving 10,000 UK volunteers.

But as the rate of COVID-19 infection has lowered in the UK, making it more difficult to see if the vaccine has been effective, people will join from other parts of the world too — including 30,000 people in the US, 2,000 in South Africa, and 5,000 from Brazil, the BBC explained.

This wider trial will help show the vaccine candidate's safety and effectiveness on a larger scale and the process will still take some time.

AstraZeneca has signed a deal with Oxford University and the UK government to develop 100 million doses of the vaccine, if and when it is ready. However, the Lancet editor warned that the deal amounted to “colluding in unacceptable vaccine nationalism.” Horton warned that it could diminish access to a vaccine for vulnerable groups in poorer countries.

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In response to the news today, Alok Sharma, the business secretary, said: “Today’s results are extremely encouraging, taking us one step closer to finding a successful vaccine to protect millions in the UK and across the world. Backed by £84 million government investment for the vaccine’s development and manufacture, the agility and speed with which the University of Oxford have been working is outstanding.”

Global Citizen, the European Commission, and health agencies like the World Health Organization are campaigning for a future vaccine that is safe and effective to become available to everyone, everywhere in the world — because if vaccines are hoarded by nations, we can never hope to truly beat the pandemic.

On July 16 eight world leaders signed an op-ed, urging the same — that no one should be left behind in the search for a vaccine.

Anna Mouser, the policy lead for the vaccine team at the Wellcome Trust, told Global Citizen in June: “No country has deep enough pockets to fund this amount of research and work on its own, it’s important [world leaders] set national interests aside and work together and share the risks.”

You can join the campaign to ensure a COVID-19 vaccine, along with tests and treatments, is made available to everyone on the planet by taking action here.You can find out more about COVID-19, what's needed to tackle it, and how it's impacting the lives of people around the world, through our COVID-19 coverage here