Trials involving over 1,000 volunteers suggest that the coronavirus vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford is safe and does train the immune system to resist the virus, according to reports.
The University says that there are indications that the vaccine encourages the system to make both antibodies and white blood T-cells. It’s not yet enough to say that it offers long-term protection, tough the Uk has already ordered 100m doses of the vaccine while more trials are underway.
The Oxford University vaccine, called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, is made from a genetically engineered virus, modified to act like COVID-19 without causing the symptoms – however, the trials have shown that it may cause side-effects such as fever and headache .
Prof Sarah Gilbert, form the University of Oxford, UK, says: “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.”
Meanwhile preliminary results of a clinical trial by a company based in in Southampton suggest that a new treatment for COVID-19 could dramatically reduce the number of coronavirus patients needing intensive care.
In the treatment, the protein is inhaled directly into the patients’ lungs using a nebuliser with the intention that it will stimulate an immune response. Initial findings suggest that the treatment will reduce the likelihood of a patient requiring serious treatment such as use of a ventilator by 79 percent.
There is also a suggestion that the treatment will make it two to three times more likely that patients will recover without long-term effects of coronavirus on heart and lung function and mobility, as previously discussed here.
The Synairgen treatment should also reduce the amount of time patients spend in hospital by a third, down from an average of nine days to six days.
The trials involved 101 volunteers from nine hospitals throughout the country. Half received the drug, half a placebo.
The preliminary results, though, have been published as a stockmarket requirement, and have not been peer reviewed.
Lead researcher Tom Wilkinson claims that if the results are confirmed the new treatment will be “a game changer”, and Synairgen chief executive Richard Marsden told the BBC that the next step would be to present the results to medical regulators to see what verification was required.
He hoped that the drug could be given emergency approval to avoid the usual months-long process, making the treatment available in hundreds of thousands of doses by the winter, but admitted that the trials struggled to find high-risk volunteers because of a shortage of new infections.
Of course, the interferon beta treatment is not a vaccination, which would be a more significant contribution to the fight against coronavirus.
The UK government has now signed deals for 90 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine being developed by BioNtech and Pfizer, and 100 million doses of the vaccine in development by Oxford University and AstraZeneca.
The vaccines use different biochemical delivery methods, so it’s not yet certain which might be the more effective. While either might provoke an immune response, it’s not yet clear whether either might protect against infection in the first place, or whether they may have any long-term immunisation effects, particularly if the coronavirus should mutate.
Kate Bingham, chair of the government’s Vaccine Taskforce, said: “The fact that we have so many promising candidates already shows the unprecedented pace at which we are moving.
“But I urge against being complacent or over optimistic.
“The fact remains we may never get a vaccine and if we do get one, we have to be prepared that it may not be a vaccine which prevents getting the virus, but rather one that reduces symptoms.”
Speaking on the BBC’s Today programme, she said she wouldn’t ‘take to the bank’ any promise of a vaccination being available this year, but with ‘rose-tinted spectacles’ it might be possible.
Calling for volunteers for vaccination trials, Chief Medical officer Prof. Chris Whitty said: “Now that there are several promising vaccines on the horizon, we need to call again on the generosity of the public to help find out which potential vaccines are the most effective.”
Meanwhile the Covid Symptom Study by lifesciences company Zoe says that skin rashes may be a significant symptom in large numbers of coronavirus cases, in some cases the only visible symptom.
Researchers surveyed 12,000 people who had skin rashes, as well as suspected or confirmed COVID-19.
Almost one in five (17 percent) who had tested positive for coronavirus reported a rash as the first symptom of the disease, and among those who reported a rash and were confirmed as having coronavirus, 21 percent said it was their only symptom.
The rashes ranged from a hive-type (urticaria) with raised bumps resembling a nettle rash, to chickenpox-like itchy bumps on the joints and extremities, red or purple ‘chilblains’ on the fingers and toes, or a pink, scaly rash like rosacea.
“Many viral infections can affect the skin, so it’s not surprising we’re seeing these rashes in Covid-19,” says Covid Symptom Study author Dr Veronique Bataille, consultant dermatologist at St Thomas’ Hospital and King’s College London (KCL).
“It’s important people know that in some cases, a rash may be the first or only symptom of the disease. If you notice a new rash, you should take it seriously by self-isolating and getting tested as soon as possible.”
So while the preliminary results of the coronavirus vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford and the trials by Synairgen based in Southampton suggest that a new treatment for COVID-19 could dramatically reduce the number of coronavirus patients needing intensive care, it seems there’s some way to go before we can hope for a vaccination, and meanwhile we have a whole new sets of symptoms to look out for.