The Oxford coronavirus vaccine could catch up with US rivals and produce results by Christmas, said its scientists, as they confirmed regulators are conducting a ‘rolling review’ to speed up the process.
Prof Sarah Gilbert, lead researcher of Oxford’s vaccine development programme, said the team have been in contact with regulators to give them information to assess before Oxford produce a final clinical data set.
Phase two data, published in The Lancet, shows the vaccine triggers a robust immune response in healthy adults aged 56-69 and people over 70, suggesting one of the groups most vulnerable to serious illness and death from Covid-19 could build immunity.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the head of Pfizer has said his company is poised to send out doses of its Covid-19 vaccine “within hours” of it receiving regulatory approval.
Chief Executive Albert Bourla told Sky News the company will apply for licences “very, very soon – within a couple of days.”
Unlike the Oxford vaccine, the Pfizer alternative has concluded its Phase 3 study in partnership with the German firm BioNTech, and the UK has ordered 40 million doses of the jab.
UK authorities have also placed orders for 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine, which is enough to vaccinate most of the population – should it receive regulatory approval.
Dr Michael Tildesley, who sits on a Sage sub-group, said the vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford is “going to be hopefully one of the key game changers” because the number of doses acquired by the Government will allow the UK to “hopefully reach that magic herd immunity.”
Dr Maheshi Ramasamy, investigator at the Oxford Vaccine Group and consultant physician, said: “Older adults are a priority group for Covid-19 vaccination, because they are at increased risk of severe disease, but we know that they tend to have poorer vaccine responses.
“We were pleased to see that our vaccine was not only well tolerated in older adults, but also stimulated similar immune responses to those seen in younger volunteers.
The news follows Pfizer’s vaccine announcement on November 18, that their vaccine reached 95% efficacy in phase 3 trials, in what is undoubtedly a shot in the arm for ending the coronavirus pandemic.
But as the cost of rolling-out the US/German jab is likely to be at least ten times higher than our home-grown version, ministers at Whitehall will surely be relieved Oxford University is catching up.
The logistics of distributing the Pfizer vaccine, which needs to be kept in dry ice, is staggering. Matt Hancock has warned the mass distribution would be a “colossal exercise” involving not just the NHS but the Armed Forces.
The Health Secretary acknowledged there was “enormous complexity” in administering the Pfizer vaccine.