When will we know if the Oxford vaccine works?

Grant Boone
November 20, 2020

A COVID-19 vaccine developed by a state-owned Chinese pharmaceutical firm has been administered to about a million people under the government's emergency use scheme, the company's chairman said.

Seroconversion of neutralizing antibodies shows if the vaccine had induced an immune response against SARS-CoV-2. Researchers believe the immune response they found would provide protection.

"We're making this ahead of time so should the clinical trial be positive with the outcome that we're looking for ... the vaccine will be available in the short term to distribute to the population", said CSL's chief scientific officer Andrew Nash.

Larger studies are now underway to evaluate immunogenicity, safety and efficacy in older adults with a wider range of comorbidities.

Between May 20 and August 8, 560 participants were enrolled in the study including 100 adults (ages 18-55 years old) who received the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 and 60 who received the control vaccine; 120 adults ages 59-69 years old received ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, and 40 adults ages 59-69 years old received the control vaccine; 200 adults over 70 years of age received ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, and 40 adults over 70 years of age received the control vaccine. The study, therefore, includes only healthy participants and not those with comorbidities.

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The researchers also stress that 240 participants were over the age of 70 and their immune responses were similar to younger people in this clinical trial as well as the results from the younger cohort from Phase I. This is a very important result given how older adults are one of the most-at-risk groups.

The team found that the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine was safe and well tolerated with a lower reactogenicity profile in older adults than in younger adults. It is also generating a good antibody response.

"The robust antibody and T-cell responses seen in older people in our study are encouraging", said co-author Dr. Maheshi Ramasamy, also from Oxford.

"What this could mean is that in the future when we're looking to boost people's responses, we might need to do it more often in older people than we do with younger people, but we're not thinking that we're going to need to boost people a few times a year as we do with the flu vaccine".

According to Health Minister of Ukraine Maksym Stepanov, Ukraine will receive the COVID-19 vaccine in several batches, and the first 1 million 200 thousand doses will be used to vaccinate health workers. Both vaccines have yet to be approved by Health Canada. But even one that just afforded "protective immunity" - preventing people, especially the most vulnerable, from getting sick when they contract the virus, would be a "huge step forward", he said.

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