Speed Reads

Solving COVID

Oxford COVID-19 clinical trial aims for a viable vaccine by September

A team at Britain's Oxford University is starting human trials on a potential COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, Health Minister Matt Hancock announced Tuesday, and the British government is "going to back them to the hilt," starting with a $25 million government investment.

Oxford's Jenner Institute and the Oxford Vaccine Group are conducting the trial. Adrian Hill, director of Jenner Institute, said last week the "aim is to have about a million doses by September once we have the results of our vaccine efficacy tests," and "then we'll move even faster from there, because it's pretty clear that the world is going to need hundreds of millions of doses ideally by the end of the year to end this pandemic." The Oxford team is trialing an experimental recombinant viral vector vaccine called "ChAdOx1 nCoV-19," one of at least 70 vaccine candidates under development worldwide, though only four have been cleared for human testing.

Prof. Sarah Gilbert, who is leading the study, said her team was already working on coronavirus vaccines last year in preparation for an outbreak of "Disease X," so once the disease hit, they were able to work "unusually quickly." Infectious disease experts warn that a vaccine won't be available for 12 to 18 months, if ever, but while "we can never be certain that these vaccines will work," Gilbert said, "personally I think it has a very strong chance of working."

If a vaccine has been deemed safe and effective, the world will need billions of doses, and Bill Gates is among those urging the world to prepare facilities to mass-produce whatever kind of vaccine emerges victorious. That will entail global cooperation, and the Oxford team says it will produce its initial million does at plants in Britain, Europe, India, and China. The U.S. doesn't have the capacity to make the 300 million-plus doses it will need, but the U.S. government could prepare by taking over liquor or beer plants and sterilizing their fermentation vats, medical historian Arthur Silverstein tells The New York Times. "Any distillery could be converted."