Is the Oxford Vaccine for COVID-19 Safe to Move onto Human Trials?

The Oxford vaccine allegedly worked on monkeys and is moving to human trials - is this safe? 

Published
Coronavirus
2 min read
The Oxford vaccine allegedly worked on monkeys and is moving to human trials - is this safe? 
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In early April, a professor at Oxford University was “80 per cent certain” that the world would see a vaccine for the deadly novel coronavirus by September 2020.

Towards the end of April, scientists from the Jenner Institute in Oxford announced that their vaccine had passed the animal trials round and would soon be moving onto human trials shortly. However, there was no way of independently verifying this data.

Now, a study on BioRxiv preprint, a peer-reviewed platform for pre-published studies, answers the question: does this vaccine really work on monkeys?

According to this New York Times article, the animals - six rhesus macaque monkeys - were injected with heavy doses of the vaccine from Oxford and then exposed to the novel coronavirus. After 28 days, the six monkeys were all healthy. These monkeys are selected as they are the closest to humans.

However, according to a review in Forbes, the oxford study has misleading results. According to the paper on BioRxiv, the vaccinated monkeys did become infected with COVID-19.

It’s not all bad news: the authors of the peer-review said that while the vaccine did not completely prevent the animals from getting an infection, it did moderate the disease.

The authors present evidence to the effect that, although the vaccine did not protect the animals from infection, it did moderate the disease’s effects.

For example, one way to test infection is by measuring the amount of virus in the lungs. “Viral RNA was detected in the lungs of 2 of the 6 vaccinated animals and in all three unvaccinated animals, again suggesting only partial protection.” On day seven of the trials, the animals were euthanized and examined for lung damage and two out of three unvaccinated animals had some degree of interstitial pneumonia. However, no damage was detected in any of the vaccinated animals.

In both the Oxford and Sinovac trials, there was no evidence to suggest the disease was worsened. However, one cannot extrapolate this to humans.

The bottom line is that this vaccine, so far, only provides partial protection against COVID-19.

Will a Partial Vaccine Work?

For context, HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria all have partial vaccines. Are the results to contain those disease promising? Not really.

What can the makers of this vaccine do then? Should they move on to human trials with a partial vaccine or work to improve it - which may take much longer? Or try another strategy - maybe of combining more vaccines as the Forbes article suggests?

With public pressure mounting to deliver a vaccine fast, safety must not take a backseat.

(With inputs from Forbes and New York Times )

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