Some good news, finally. A vaccine for coronavirus is in the works, and trials have shown that it produces strong immune responses.
The vaccine, which is called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19—but that’s too long, so heretofore let’s just refer to it as “Chad”—is being developed by the Jenner Institute of Oxford University, in conjunction with multinational pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. Scientists developed Chad by taking the “spike protein” of the coronavirus—the part of the virus that invades cells—and harnessing its genetic instructions to get the body to produce antibodies and T-cells.
Antibodies are the two prongs of what makes an effective immune response. Antibodies are proteins that prevent the virus from sticking to cells. T-cells on the other hand are a kind of white blood cell that destroys cells infected by the virus. Antibodies and T-cells protect the body, and Chad is the one giving them instructions.
These tests involved 1,000 healthy people between the ages of 18 and 55. Ten of those people received double vaccinations, which resulted in a stronger immune response.
Let’s not put too much hope in Chad just yet, as Oxford scientists and researchers are still in the testing phase, and even testing comes with its own complications. Although test subjects were shown to produce antibodies and t-cells, side effects included a fever or headache which are… not reassuring things to feel during a pandemic.
There’s no conclusive finding that says whether or not this vaccine will actually prevent people from contracting COVID. There’s also the idea of deliberately infecting vaccinated test subjects with the actual coronavirus, but that raises a bunch of complex ethical questions. So is Chad safe to use? Not quite.
When will Chad be fully developed and readily available? It’s possible for a full-fledged coronavirus vaccine to be ready by the end of the year, but whether or not it will be totally accessible to the UK public, let alone the rest of the world, is hard to ascertain. Professor Sarah Gilbert, who heads the Oxford team, has stated that there is “absolutely no certainty” about the timeline of completion, production, and distribution. Besides, Oxford still has to move on to the next phase of testing, which involves 30,000 people from the US, 2,000 people in South Africa, and 5,000 people in Brazil.
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Still, this is progress, and it’s not like Oxford University is the only organization working on a vaccine. The National Institute of Health of the U.S. and Moderna Inc. are also cooking something up.
If it’s any consolation, Mene Pangalos, Executive Vice President of BioPharmaceuticals Research and Development at AstraZeneca says: "While there is more work to be done, today's data increases our confidence that the vaccine will work and allows us to continue our plans to manufacture the vaccine at scale for broad and equitable access around the world.”
Chad, we’re all waiting with bated breath.