COVID-19 vaccine ready by September- Oxford scientist

File: Treatment of Coronavirus victims. Photo credit: The Straits Times

File: Doctors treating coronavirus patients

By Nehru Odeh

A cure for the coronavirus is on the horizon as a vaccine for COVID-19 could be available as early as September, if everything goes perfectly, according to Sarah Gilbert, a professor of vaccinology at Oxford University. The professor, as reported by IrishCentral, said she has created a potential vaccine and that human trials would begin within two weeks.

Gilbert, who is leading a team of researchers in the development of the vaccine, said there was a “high chance” that it would be a success. In an interview with the London Times, Gilbert said she is “80% confident” that the vaccine will work against the coronavirus.

Gilbert has been making and testing vaccines designed to induce T cell responses for over ten years, chiefly using antigens from malaria and influenza. Several of the vaccines developed in her laboratory have progressed into clinical trials.

“I think there’s a high chance that it will work based on other things that we have done with this type of vaccine. It’s not just a hunch and as every week goes by we have more data to look at,” she said.

This indeed is a ray of hope. Most experts have claimed that any coronavirus vaccine will take between a year and 18 months to develop, but Gilbert wants to expedite the development process.  And she hopes to accelerate the clinical trial process of the vaccine by administering it in healthy volunteers and then trying to naturally infect them with the coronavirus as soon as possible. She wants to introduce the vaccine in areas that have not imposed a full lockdown to fully test its efficacy.

“If one of those places turns out to have a high rate of virus transmission then we will get our efficacy results very quickly, so that is one strategy for reducing the time.

“Total lockdowns do make it harder. But we don’t want the herd immunity either. We want them to be susceptible and exposed for the trials purely to test the efficacy,” she maintained

However, Gilbert warned that the British Government would have to start mass production of the vaccine before it is proven to work if it is to be ready for the fall.

“We don’t want to get to later this year and discover we have a highly effective vaccine and we haven’t got any vaccine to use.”

The British Government said it would fund the manufacture of millions of vaccines in advance of the final results if results looked promising, according to the Times.

There have been more than 1.8 million cases of the coronavirus worldwide since it first emerged in Wuhan, China, last December and there have been over 115,000 deaths. In Britain, where Gilbert is based, there have been almost 90,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 11,000 deaths.

Some experts have already expressed confidence in Gilbert’s vaccine.  Brendan Wren, Professor of microbial pathogenesis at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said Gilbert’s research team was “among the most advanced groups in the world and have been working on vaccine bio-preparedness for several years,” he said, adding that it would not be surprising to see a vaccine emerge by September.