Since COVID-19 first emerged as a deadly global pandemic, the University of Oxford has been developing a new COVID-19 vaccine at unprecedented speed. Now, the vaccine is making headlines for reporting promising early findings. Initial reports are so positive, in fact, that the UK has already ordered 100 million doses of the experimental vaccine.
Here’s what we know about vaccine ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 and its ongoing testing.
What Is University of Oxford’s Vaccine Candidate?
Coronavirus vaccine candidate ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 is made from a genetically engineered virus that causes the common cold in chimpanzees. Though at first glance that might sound unlikely to prevent COVID-19, University of Oxford researchers explain that the virus has been heavily modified to “look” more like COVID-19.
During the development of ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, Oxford scientists transferred the genetic instructions for the coronavirus’s “spike protein” into the vaccine. The spike protein is the essential tool the coronavirus uses to invade human cells. By arming the vaccine with those spike proteins instead, scientists believe that ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 can safely resemble the COVID-19 virus and teach the immune system how to attack it.
It’s important to note that vaccine ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 has been scientifically modified to ensure it cannot cause infections in people. So while the vaccine can help the immune system learn how to attack COVID-19, the vaccine cannot cause the infection itself.
How do Antibodies and T-Cells Fight COVID-19?
Antibodies and T-cells are both critical in the fight against COVID-19. And according to Professor Andrew Pollard of the Oxford research ground, “We’re really pleased with the results published today as we’re seeing both neutralising antibodies and T-cells.”
Antibodies are small proteins made by the immune system to disable viruses such as COVID-19. T-cells, meanwhile, are a type of white blood cell that support the immune system as it identifies and destroys infected cells.
So far, Oxford researchers report that 90% of vaccinated people developed neutralizing antibodies after one dose. Those antibodies peaked 28 days after vaccination with ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, while levels of T-cells peaked after 14 days after vaccination. More time needs to pass for researchers to conclude how long they last altogether.
As Pollard explains, “The key question everyone wants to know is does the vaccine work, does it offer protection… and we’re in a waiting game.”
Next Steps in the Trial
These early findings are exciting, as they suggest that Oxford’s experimental vaccine may hold legitimate promise of slowing the spread of the pandemic.
However, Professor Sarah Gilbert of the University of Oxford cautions, “There is still much work to be done before we can confirm if our vaccine will help manage the COVID-19 pandemic, but these early results hold promise.”
Once current ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine trials prove its safety, more than 10,000 people will participate in the next stage of the clinical trial in the United Kingdom. The University of Oxford also expects to expand trials into other countries, including 30,000 participants in the United States and 5,000 in Brazil.