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The big question: "What are the chances of a COVID-19 vaccine by Christmas?"

Charlie Houston
Chief Biomedical Scientist, Biochemistry
Nobles Hospital, Isle of Man

As of 31/07/20 there are 26 candidate vaccines in clinical evaluation, of which five are in phase 3 clinical trials. There are 139 candidate vaccines in preclinical evaluation.  

Various predictor markets – exchanges in which participants buy and sell contracts on future events in fields from politics and entertainment to foreign affairs and science – are indicating there will not be a COVID-19 vaccine this year.

They have put the chance of a vaccine between now and then as less than one in three, or even less than one on five.

Hypermind, which bills itself as a supercollective intelligence, says the best chance – 59% likelihood –is that a vaccine will only be approved sometime after the first quarter of 2021.

Prediki.com, another online play-money prediction market, is even more pessimistic. It puts the chances of a vaccine being mass-produced before January at one in five.

In fact, the odds of a vaccine only cross 50-50 after June 2021.

A vaccine from the University of Oxford, in the UK, which is under development in partnership with the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, states it has obtained “good data so far” on its COVID-19 vaccine candidate and is already in large-scale clinical trials, with results expected sometime in August.

So, the chances we will see an effective and licenced vaccine are low in my opinion. I’d put my money on late April 2021.

 

Jonathan M Evans
Lead Biomedical Scientist/ Operational Manager
Virology Specialist Centre, Public Health Wales

Like everybody else, I would love a vaccine to be available by Christmas. Normally, I’d like to think I’d be in a position to give an informed response, but the reality of leading the Wales Specialist Virology Centre response to the COVID pandemic, and helping other labs within the Welsh network come on line, means that my team and I have had very little time to read any of the literature released. I try to avoid getting my scientific updates from the media, for what I believe are good reasons.

However, we have to be realistic and look at both sides. I don’t believe a vaccine has ever been made in such a short timescale, I’m not aware of any previous coronavirus vaccines and both SARS and MERS have been around awhile. If developed, you’d have the manufacturing challenges, the logistics of delivery and likely requirement of a cold chain.

On the contrary, there are hundreds of vaccine trials going on globally and money is being invested like nothing I’ve ever witnessed. I believe humans are incredibly ingenious, clever people who have great problem-solving capabilities when required (or if potentially vast sums of money are involved for the victor).

With Public Health Wales supporting the Oxford University trial and preliminary results looking promising, it would be hugely professionally and personally rewarding if this vaccine was the one! 

 

Sarah J Pitt
Principal Lecturer
School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences, Brighton University

There are a number of candidate vaccines under development around the world and the research teams have taken on a very difficult job, given that we do not fully understand the immune response to coronaviruses in general and that attempts to design a vaccine against the first SARS-CoV and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome virus (MERS-CoV) have not been successful.

The SARS-CoV-2 spike protein S is involved in effecting viral entry into host cells , so finding a way to block that seems important. It is also immunogenic, which is why it has become the focus of vaccine design. A number of approaches are being taken. For example, the Oxford University group have cloned the genetic material for the S protein into an adenovirus vector (ChAdOx1 nCoV-19). The Imperial College team are using self replicating RNA containing the S gene encased in a lipid nanoparticle. Early results from both of these are promising and show that they can stimulate both antibody and T cell responses in humans. The Valneva vaccine, which will be manufactured in Livingstone, is taking the more traditional method of using whole inactivated virus and this might eventually turn out to be a better option.

While there are grounds for cautious optimism, will a vaccine and normal life be possible by Christmas? Only once everyone in the world has been given at least one dose of a safe, effective vaccine. I would be delighted to be proved wrong, but that does seems unlikely.  
 

Picture Credit | iStock

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