When will a coronavirus vaccine be available to the public?

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  • May 18, 2020
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At Sunday’s coronavirus press briefing, business secretary Alok Sharma said a Vaccine Taskforce is being led by chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Jonathan Van Tam, to accelerate the development of a coronavirus vaccine.

The Government has also green-lighted a further 21 research projects to help fight coronavirus, and allocated a further £84 million to support teams at Oxford University and Imperial College London engaged in the global race to find a vaccine.​

Researchers at the Oxford Vaccine Group began testing the vaccine candidate ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 in humans on April 24 to see whether it can protect healthy people from Covid-19.

Here’s what we know so far about the coronavirus vaccine.

Microbiologist Elisa Granato, 32, is injected as part of human trials in the UK for a coronavirus vaccine (PA)

Is a coronavirus vaccine nearly ready?

Producing a vaccine, which some have predicted could take up to 18 months, is a “colossal undertaking”, Mr Sharma said.

However, the government have said if the Covid-19 vaccine candidate developed by Oxford University proves successful in human trials then up to 30 million doses for the UK could be available by September.

The programme will allow researchers to assess the safety of the candidate, and its ability to generate an immune response.

Up to 1,102 participants have been recruited across multiple study sites in Oxford, Southampton, London and Bristol, aged between 18 and 55.

The study works by randomly allocating volunteers either a ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine, or a licensed meningitis vaccine, to be used as a control for comparison.

Statisticians will compare the number of infections in the control group, with the number of infections in the vaccinated group.

Therefore, it is necessary for a small number of study participants to develop Covid-19.

How quickly researchers reach the numbers required depends on the levels of virus transmission in the community.

If transmission remains high, enough data may be available in a couple of months but if transmission levels drop, this could take up to six months.

When will a vaccine be available to the public?

We don’t know for sure when a coronavirus vaccine will be available to the public, as normally it would take years to develop.

Researchers are working flat out to achieve the same amount of work in a matter of a few months, although most experts believe a vaccine may become available by mid-2021.

Coronavirus infecting a cell – In pictures

This is 12-18 months after the coronavirus, officially known as Sars-CoV-2, first emerged – however, there are no guarantees.

The vaccine ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 is made from ChAdOx1, a weakened version of a common cold virus (adenovirus) that causes infections in chimpanzees.

It has been genetically changed so it is impossible for it to grow in humans.

Researchers hope their version will make the body recognise and develop an immune response to the spike protein – recognisable in images of the virus – that will help stop Covid-19 from entering human cells and therefore prevent infection.

Imperial College London is also progressing with its vaccine candidate and will look to move into clinical trials by mid-June, with larger scale trials in October.

What has the UK government said about a coronavirus vaccine?

Mr Sharma also said that Oxford had sealed a major deal with pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca, who will aim to produce 30 million doses by September if the trials are successful.

He said the UK would have access to the vaccines first, but would also ensure it would be available to developing nations “at the lowest possible cost”.

Mr Sharma told the press conference on Sunday that he was “proud” of the work taking place at Oxford University.

He said: “The first clinical trial of the Oxford vaccine is progressing well with all phase one participants having received their vaccine dose on schedule earlier this week.

“The speed at which Oxford University has designed and organised these complex trials is genuinely unprecedented.”

Mr Sharma also told viewers that work by Imperial College to develop a vaccine was also progressing well and will move to the trial stage in June.

Meanwhile, the new money – which comes on top of the £47 million already provided by taxpayers – will help mass-produce the vaccines if they get approval.