A vaccine for COVID-19, the viral illness caused by the novel coronavirus, may be within reach sooner than many experts predicted.
Researchers at Oxford University’s Jenner Institute are scheduling human clinical trials as early as the end of next month after recent testing of their vaccine proved effective on monkeys, The New York Times reports.
If the vaccine is proved safe and effective in the human clinical trials, which will involve more than 6,000 people, then it is possible that millions of vaccinations could be made available by September of this year.
Jenner Institute researchers have an advantage in the race to develop a vaccine. By building on their previous work on inoculations, including against an earlier coronavirus, that proved harmless to humans, the group was able to move faster than other teams around the world working for a breakthrough.
“It is a very, very fast clinical program,” Emilio Emini, director of the vaccine program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, told The New York Times. The Gates Foundation is financially supporting various efforts to produce a vaccine.
For this latest round of tests, the Oxford scientists ran trials of the vaccine on six Rhesus macaque monkeys. They found that even after the monkeys had been heavily exposed to the virus, a single dose of the inoculation protected them; some 28 days post-exposure, all of the monkeys were still healthy. Monkeys that were exposed without the inoculation became ill.
According to Live Science, “the rhesus monkey genome, conducted by an international consortium of more than 170 scientists, reveals that humans and the macaques share about 93 percent of their DNA. By comparison, humans and chimpanzees share about 98 to 99 percent of their DNA.”
If the Oxford team has, in fact, found a way to protect human beings against COVID-19, the only remaining question will be whether those who are most vulnerable because of their age or because of socially imposed health conditions will be allowed first access.
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