While the whole world is looking for a vaccine against the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), a new annoying problem is emerging. There are currently too few new infections in many countries to test for a potential vaccine to really protect against the virus. The University of Oxford therefore estimates the chance that they will find a working vaccine at 50 percent.
At the moment, 224 possible vaccines against the new coronavirus are under development. One of the leaders in that race is the renowned University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. At the beginning of May, he said that he was still hopeful to have a working vaccine ready for winter. The chance was then estimated at 80 percent to have such a vaccine by September.
Meanwhile, the Oxford team is much less optimistic about the success rates of their ZD1222 vaccine. Professor Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute who heads the Oxford University team, explains in The Telegraph newspaper what the problem is.
The team selected 10,000 volunteers to test whether the vaccine is effective. Half of these receive ZD-1222, the other half receive a placebo. Since the coronavirus is too deadly, it is irresponsible to consciously infect those volunteers. That is why the researchers depend on “natural” infections.
As is currently the case of the epidemic in the UK, Professor Hill estimates that barely 50 people from the control group will be infected. If that number is even lower and there are only 20 positive cases, the results are useless. Then too few vaccinees are exposed to the virus to be able to find out whether the vaccine offers any protection.
Race against the virus
“It’s a race, yes. But it is not a race against the other researchers. It is a race against the disappearance of the virus and against time, ”explains Professor Hill.
In April, Oxford already conducted a similar test with its ZD-1222 vaccine on 1,000 people. Then the epidemic was at its peak in the UK and so the problem of too few infections was not raised. The exact results will be announced the following month. “The first test went well. We are still busy. I can already tell you that, ”says Hill.
Who gets the vaccine?
Although there is a chance that the Oxford University team cannot prove that their vaccine is effective enough, they also look beyond that. Developing a vaccine is only the first step. The following is to ensure that everyone is given it. Behind the scenes, there is already plenty of fighting for which country will be the first to receive such a vaccine for its inhabitants.
In the case of Oxford, this is of course the United Kingdom. The British government has already concluded an agreement with the university on this. It concerns a total of 100 million doses. The following 400 million doses are for the United States. Pharma giant AstraZeneca announced last week that it had made a $ 1.2 billion ($ 1.09 billion) deal with the U.S. government to make 400 million doses of the vaccine under development in Oxford, even though its operation therefore not yet proven.
Professor Hill does stress that Oxford University has guarantees that no priority will be given to rich Western countries at the expense of others. “The reputation damage to the university would be enormous if we were to supply the vaccine only to the UK and the US and not to the rest of the world, where the pandemic is very likely to still rage,” he says. “The vaccine should be delivered to the countries where it is most needed at the time it works, not the countries that were before. And that will happen. ”