Scientists welcome coronavirus vaccine news

Social restrictions could start to be eased by spring, one scientist has said, after the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca published their early trial data for their Covid vaccine.

AstraZeneca and Oxford University announced that their jab is effective in preventing many people getting ill and it has been shown to work in different age groups, including the elderly.

One Sage scientist said recent vaccine news – including the development from Oxford – could mean that social restrictions could start to be eased by spring.

Coronavirus graphic
Coronavirus graphic

But he said that people need to keep up with protective measures, including social distancing.

Dr Michael Tildesley, associate professor in infectious disease modelling at the University of Warwick, told Times Radio the news was “excellent” but said it could be four to five months before enough vaccine could be given to the population to achieve some sort of herd immunity.

“It’s absolutely excellent news about the Oxford vaccine because this is really the vaccine that the Government has pinned a lot of their hopes on in terms of resources – we’ve ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine,” he said.

“The vaccine is on the horizon. But we’re still probably four/five months away from getting to the stage that we can give enough doses out to the population to start thinking about achieving herd immunity as a nation.

“What we really need to do in the meantime is get the message out there that, yes, there is good news – the cavalry is appearing on the horizon – but we need to keep incidence as low as possible. We need to keep observing our social distancing.”

When asked whether by summer next year the world would be looking back at the pandemic, he said: “I hope that’s the case. I would say I was more concerned about it four or five weeks ago when it was looking to me that we might still be in the situation next summer.

“We’ve had some great news about three different vaccines over the last three weeks.

The Oxford vaccine
The Oxford vaccine

“I would say I’m more hopeful that by the spring we might be starting to ease out of these restrictions.”

Other experts welcomed the news that the vaccine can be delivered around the world using existing healthcare facilities.

The vaccine can be stored in “fridge temperature” from 2-8C.

Professor Azra Ghani, chair in infectious disease epidemiology at Imperial College London, said: “The results from this trial of the Oxford/AZ vaccine are highly encouraging, demonstrating significant efficacy.

“A particular strength of this vaccine is that it can be stored in a fridge; this means that it can be distributed around the world using existing delivery mechanisms.

“This could therefore have a truly significant impact across the globe and enable an end to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Christmas tree
Christmas tree

On the efficacy rates compared to other vaccines, she added: “Of course much will be made of the difference in overall efficacy between this vaccine (70%) and the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines (95%).

“However, it is encouraging to see that in a sub-analysis, a fractional dosing schedule in which the first dose was administered at a lower level than the second resulted in higher efficacy and gave results comparable to the other vaccines (90%).

“It will be important to both understand the mechanisms generating this result as well as to confirm this in the final efficacy analysis.

“If this result holds, this will mean that the same manufacturing capacity will be able to produce more doses and thus further reduce the constraints on vaccine supply.”

Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases and global health in the Nuffield Department of Medicine at the University of Oxford, added: “This is very welcome news, we can clearly see the end of the tunnel now.

“Importantly, from what we have heard, the vaccine seems to prevent infection, not just disease. This is important as the vaccine could reduce the spread of the virus as well as protect the vulnerable from severe disease.

“The Oxford vaccine can be stored in the fridge, as opposed to the freezer like the other two vaccines, which means it is a more practical solution for use worldwide.”

Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in Global Health at the University of Southampton, said: “This vaccine candidate also requires refrigeration storage rather than the ultra-low temperatures of the Pfizer candidate.

“Oxford have previously confirmed that there would be some level of distribution to low-and-middle-income countries so this may also be good news around the subject of equitable access to vaccine development with a product that is much easier to store and distribute.

“The pandemic is everyone’s problem at least until the vast majority of the globe is vaccinated, not just the rich countries.”