COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker: These Candidates Are Still on Track

Currently, 198 vaccine candidates are in several stages of clinical research according to the WHO.

Updated
Currently, 198 vaccine candidates are in several stages of clinical research according to the WHO.
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While India strides into the Unlock, it’s important to remember that we are still in a global pandemic. On Tuesday, 20 November, PM Modi urged citizens to wear masks properly and take precautions this festive season. The race to find a vaccine, so we can all resume our lives, is in hyper gear - but where do we stand now at 10 months into 2020? Despite the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccine trials on hold, the progress has been astounding.

Currently, 198 vaccine candidates are in several stages of clinical research according to the World Health Organisation. Out of these, 44 vaccine candidates are in clinical evaluations and 154 candidate vaccines are in preclinical evaluation.

Part 1 of our vaccine explainer which breaks down how a vaccine is made and why it needs to take a long time to be released can be found here.

A vaccine for COVID-19 would protect us by training our immune system to fight against this new virus. For now, people are still very vulnerable with some countries witnessing second and third wave of the virus.

What’s New in the World of Vaccines?

On Monday, 19 October, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that India is now at the forefront of vaccine development for Covid-19 while virtually addressing the 'Grand Challenges' annual meeting.

Earlier, the Centre had said that three vaccines are in advanced stages of development in India, out of which 2 are in Phase II and one is in Phase III.

Currently, India’s indigenous vaccines include Bharat Biotech’s COVAXIN in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and another by Zydus Cadila Ltd.

On 19 October, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said that Bharat Biotech (with Washington University’s School of Medicine) will develop an intranasal vaccine for Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. Phase 1 trials of the vaccine candidate will take place in St Louis University's vaccine and treatment evaluation unit while further stages of the trials will be conducted in India.

Meanwhile, the US’ Pfizer vaccine candidate that Trump had asserted would have results ready by their election in mid-November, issued a statement saying they would need more time. With COVID-19, many politicians have made promises of a vaccine but researchers insist that despite the extra pressure they need to follow standard protocol and safety checks.

But the US’s Moderna vaccine could have interim results by November - which seems to be a target with the election season in full swing. In an interview to the Wall Street Journal, Moderna Inc. Chief Executive Stéphane Bancel said the government could authorize emergency use of the company’s experimental vaccine in December if they get positive interim results in November from a large clinical trial.

In the UK, however, as they prepare to face another surge and resume lockdown, the government's chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance said that a vaccine would only be available post spring 2021, reported The Guardian.

2 Top-Runner’s Paused - This May Be Good News

  • The trials for one of the front-runners, Oxford and AstraZeneca's vaccine candidate was halted after a volunteer developed an “unexplained illness” in early September. Subsequently, trials in other countries were paused too, but post a go-ahead from the UK government, trials resumed in Brazil and India. In the US, the trials remain on hold. Meanwhile, according to reports, a doctor and study participant from Brazil died as part of the trials. But after further investigation, it was found that while the 28-year-old was enrolled in the trial, he was not given the shot yet and so the trials have not been paused as the death was allegedly unrelated,.
“All significant medical events are carefully assessed by trial investigators, an independent safety monitoring committee and the regulatory authorities. These assessments have not led to any concerns about continuation of the ongoing study.”
Astrazeneca
  • The US’ Johnson & Johnson also paused their vaccine after a study participant received an unexplained illness as well in their phase 3 trials.

It must be noted that study pauses are part of the regular protocol for vaccine development to assess bumps in the road - and this suggests that despite the rush, developers are proceeding with caution.

What happens when a study is paused? In vaccine trials, participants are randomly sorted into a minimum of two groups: a control group that is given a placebo and a group that is given the vaccine. Once paused, a safety review board gets more information and finds out which group the affected participant was in, thereby ‘unblinding him.’ If they are in the placebo group, it means the event is unconnected and they continue the trials. The problem arises if the affected participant got the vaccine.

Now, the safety board needs to review the candidate thoroughly, looking at their medical history and records etc, to see if the problem is linked to the treatment or not, Regulators review this decision and only once all the data is clear and no connection can be made is the trial allowed to resume.

For COVID-19, with multiple trials across several countries, starting and stopping trials can be an issue but safety is paramount.

Riskier Vaccine Candidates

On the other hand, some countries have gone ahead with vaccine candidates and administered them more liberally in a bid to be the first to register a COVID-19 vaccine.

Russia’s Sputnik vaccine became the first registered COVID-19 vaccine in August. The speed of the regulatory approval has led some scientists to be sceptical that Russia maybe not be following the adequate safety measures in a bid to be number one in the global vaccine race.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) and Dr Reddy's Laboratories Limited, a global pharmaceutical company headquartered in India, have agreed to cooperate on clinical trials and distribution of Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine in India, Russia's sovereign wealth fund revealed in a statement on 16 September. The Drug Control General of India has granted approval to the same in early October, after first refusing by saying the Phase I and II trials conducted in Russia earlier were too small.

Meanwhile, on 15 October, a second vaccine got regulatory approvals in Russia. The vaccine has been developed by the Vector State Research Centre of Virology and Biotechnology.

Vector's vaccine, dubbed "EpiVacCorona", relies on chemically synthesized peptide antigens of SARS-CoV-2 proteins, conjugated to a carrier protein and adsorbed on an aluminum-containing adjuvant, according to details posted at ClinicalTrials.gov, a database of privately and publicly funded clinical studies conducted around the world.

China has 13 vaccines in various stages of development, according to officials at a press conference. Among these, four adenovirus vector and inactivated vaccine candidates are in phase 3 trials across the country.

China has opened up its experimental vaccine for residents for a fee. Residents aged between 18 and 59 in the city of Shaoxing, who are not in priority groups, can apply online for inoculation - but the name of the vaccine wasn't mentioned. It also is already using an experimental vaccine on essential workers, and authorities say no adverse reaction has occurred so far.

Meanwhile, a Brazilian institute that is conducting clinical trials of China’s Sinovac Biotech’s coronavirus vaccine candidate has shown positive results in phase 3 trials.

So far, all this means that the world is taking COVID-19 and vaccine development seriously, and while procedures have been expedited, safety is clearly paramount.

In other words, it may be a while before a viable global vaccine is announced.

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