The UK has joined the US and China in commencing with research in humans against COVID-19, with trials of a potential vaccine for coronavirus underway at the University of Oxford. If successful, the trials may come to represent the first step in immunisation against coronavirus across the world.
Up to 1,102 volunteers are going to be recruited for the trial at research sites in Oxford, Southampton, London and Bristol. Anyone aged between 18 and 55 who is in good health, and living in one of the catchment areas for the study, is eligible to participate.
Researchers at Oxford started screening healthy volunteers, aged between 18 and 55, earlier in March this year for the study. The vaccine being tested is a weakened version of a common cold virus that causes infections in chimpanzees.
The common cold virus has been altered genetically so that it can’t develop in humans. Scientists have taken genes from the spike protein on the surface of coronavirus, and inserted these genes into the cold virus, to create the vaccine.
It’s hoped that the body will identify and produce an immune response to the vaccine that will prevent coronavirus from accessing human cells, and causing infection.
When will the coronavirus vaccine be ready?
Typically, the timeframe for development of vaccines is at least 18 months, but the Oxford research team are hopeful that, success of the trial permitting, quantities of the vaccine numbering in the millions may be available by autumn of this year.
Research that had already been conducted at Oxford on Sars and Mers has helped to accelerate the development of the new potential vaccine for COVID-19.
Imperial College London is also looking to commence with trials of its own vaccine against COVID-19 in June.
Health secretary Matt Hancock has stated that the government will invest in manufacturing resources, so that the vaccine can be readied for the UK population as soon as possible, if the Oxford or Imperial vaccine proves to be safe to administer in humans.
It’s important to stress that the vaccine’s success is not guaranteed at this point, and people should continue to exercise caution and keep observing official social distancing advice.
Are there any treatments yet for coronavirus?
Besides vaccine development for coronavirus, a number of experimental drugs are also being tested across the world, but there isn’t any definitive evidence of their success at treating coronavirus as yet. It’s anticipated that results from various drugs trials will be available in the next few months.
There are currently three groupings of drugs that are being researched:
- Antiviral drugs that have an impact on the ability of coronavirus to thrive in the body
- Drugs that are capable of moderating the immune response; when the immune system overreacts to the virus, patients get severely unwell and the virus has a collateral effect on the body, resulting in inflammation throughout it
- Antibodies that can tackle the virus - either taken from the blood of survivors of the virus or manufactured in a lab
Can I get tested for coronavirus?
The government has been broadening their testing capabilities since the initial UK cases were confirmed. At the time of writing, the following people can register for a public coronavirus test:
- Any essential workers with symptoms;
- Anyone aged over 65 with symptoms;
- Anyone unable to work from home with symptoms.
People also have the option to test privately, if they wish to do so.
At Treated.com, we now offer two tests for COVID-19. The first, the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) coronavirus test, screens a swab sample, collected at home. Someone who tests positive for a PCR COVID-19 test currently has the virus.
We have also recently acquired the ability to test for coronavirus antibodies, meaning patients that test positive have contracted the virus at some point previously. Only people who first noticed symptoms more than 14 days ago should take this test. It’s important people also use this test correctly, and ensure they’re collecting a blood sample properly by following the instructions provided. Because immunity is still not fully understood, patients who test positive for coronavirus antibodies should continue to practice the government’s advice on social distancing.
If you are at all concerned about coronavirus, or are looking for advice about the condition, you can also access our Treated Live video consultation service, for a 10-minute consultation with one of our registered clinicians at a price of £1.
The £1 cost will be donated to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s COVID-19 Response Fund, who are working with non-profit organisations in areas where there are large numbers of individuals affected by coronavirus.