Coronavirus vaccine: A million doses could be available by September – if trials starting this week are successful

World Health Organisation continues to caution it will be 18 months – but Oxford University team appear increasingly confident they may have silver bullet

Colin Drury
Saturday 18 April 2020 19:24
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Scientists at the University of Oxford who are working on a coronavirus vaccine say that if it proves effective, they could scale it up to a million doses by September – and hundreds of millions by the end of the year.

The group, led by Professor Sarah Gilbert, are planning for the first patients to take part in human trials from next week.

World Health Organisation officials have previously cautioned that, even with 80 groups across the planet working on potential vaccines at unprecedented speed, it is unlikely anything will be developed within 18 months.

But experts familiar with the Oxford team’s work appear quietly – and increasingly – confident that it could prove to be the silver bullet.

Prof Gilbert has previously said she is 80 per cent sure it will be effective.

“This is my view, because I’ve worked with this technology a lot, and I’ve worked on the Mers vaccine trials [another type of coronavirus], and I’ve seen what that can do,” she said. “And, I think, it has a very strong chance of working.”

The group is already building capacity to mass produce the vaccine should it prove effective.

They say such capacity is crucial because, even if their own vaccine does not work, mass production will still be needed when a successful one is ready.

“The aim is to have at least a million doses by about September, once you know the vaccine efficacy results, and then move even faster from there,” said Professor Adrian Hill, who runs the university’s Jenner Institute. “It’s pretty clear the world is going to need hundreds of millions of doses, ideally by the end of this year, to end this pandemic, to lead us out of lockdown.”

Speaking to the BBC, he described a million doses as a “modest target”.

In a separate interview with ITV, he said: “Normally vaccines take years to develop. A lot of that is finishing it off, getting the manufacturing absolutely perfect and meeting all the precise regulatory requirements. There’s a lot of detail there, but we don’t have time to do that.”

He added that results from tests of its efficacy should be available by the end of the summer.

The team has managed to move quickly because it has been preparing for such a pandemic for years.

Using information from other respiratory illnesses, they had already created a genetically engineered virus that will now form the basis of the new proto-vaccine.

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