The WHO said the news out of the UK was very promising, but also warned against a quick fix to the COVID-19 crisis.
Could a proven, functioning COVID-19 vaccine be on the horizon?
The World Health Organization applauded newly released data by researchers at Oxford University and British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca on Monday with regards to a potential coronavirus vaccine while cautioning that more evidence on its effectiveness is needed.
“It is good news,” Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s emergencies program, said at a press conference at the organization’s Geneva headquarters shortly after the data was published in The Lancet. “In generating T-cell responses and generating neutralizing antibodies, this is a positive result. But again, there is a long way to go. We now need to move into larger-scale real-world trials.”
The phase one trial of the vaccine featured more than 1,000 participants between the ages of 18 and 55. Oxford researchers announced that the vaccine produced antibodies and killer T-cells to combat the infection which lasted up to two months with high patient tolerance and no serious adverse effects. Fatigue, headache, pain at the injection site, chills, and fever were common, if minor, side effects.
“The immune system has two ways of finding and attacking pathogens—antibody and T cell responses,” Oxford professor Andrew Pollard explained in a release earlier in the day. “This vaccine is intended to induce both, so it can attack the virus when it’s circulating in the body, as well as attacking infected cells. We hope this means the immune system will remember the virus, so that our vaccine will protect people for an extended period.”
The novel coronavirus has infected more than 14 million people worldwide and killed at least 606,922 as of Monday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. There are currently 23 vaccine candidates in clinical development, and until Monday, only one had produced phase one data available in a peer-reviewed journal. Yet there are still substantial challenges ahead. Once a vaccine is proven effective, it is important to ensure there are enough doses to distribute globally, and that in itself could prove problematic.
As Dr Ryan said: “(We are not) going to be able to supply a vaccine for everybody on the planet. We’re going to have to priorities who gets what vaccine at the beginning depending on which vaccine becomes available and we’re going to have to have some policy and priorities around the best use of those vaccines.” The WHO has publicly supported the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) initiative, a program intended to ensure that any effective vaccines are fairly distributed around the world. The COVAX Facility is a global purchasing pool created with the goal of ensuring that priority populations around the world have access to vaccines. The participants have come together over the last two months with the concern that rather than an emphasis on global access, there is an accelerating trend to vaccine nationalism.
The central idea is to negotiate advance purchase commitments for vaccines—guaranteeing manufacturers that they’ll be able to sell specific quantities at predetermined prices—and couple these with agreements on principles for how countries of different income levels should pay in and receive back, when a vaccine becomes available. The road ahead in the fight against COVID-19 is a long one, but with the right level of international cooperation, medical science appears to have a strong chance of winning.