With the world passing 3 million confirmed coronavirus cases, there is immense pressure to develop a vaccine. Currently, there are about 80 coronavirus vaccines in development, the first of which are beginning to pass in their animal trials, others, which have skipped animal trials and proceeded straight to humans.
Last week, Sinovac Biotech, a private Beijing-based company, concluded successful animal trials of their vaccine. They administered their vaccine in two different levels of dosage to 8 rhesus macaques, a species of monkey of whom we share 93% of DNA. The monkeys were then directly exposed to the coronavirus through a tube inserted orally into their lungs. None of the monkeys developed full-blown infections, although a few did experience “viral blips” that they were able to fight off. This blip was only seen in the monkeys that received a lowered dose of the vaccine, and the study concluded that the monkeys who received a higher dose of the vaccine were able to fight off the virus more effectively. Four “control” monkeys who were not administered the vaccine developed severe pneumonia as a result of the same exposure. This study recently started “phase I” human trials in Shanghai, and will begin larger “phase II” studies in mid-May. This vaccine is unique as it uses “old-school” inactivation techniques, which only 4 of the 77 current trials are using, the rest employing more modern genetic engineering – that may turn out to be less accessible in some areas.
Similarly, an Oxford study at the Rocky Mountain Laboratory in Montana also concluded successful testing of their vaccine in the monkeys, about a week after the Beijing study. The rhesus monkeys were administered the vaccine and remained healthy and symptom-free 28 days after consistent heavy exposure to coronavirus strains known to infect monkeys. Human trials for this vaccine have just started this week, and are expected to end in September. However, this does not necessarily mean the vaccine will be available just as soon.
In all, there are six human trials for a coronavirus vaccine being tested worldwide. While there has been a preliminary success in animal studies, just because a vaccine is effective in animals does not necessarily mean it will also be effective in humans, and experts predict it may be a while before we develop and are ready to distribute an effective human vaccine for the coronavirus.
However, not everyone is waiting for the vaccines to be tested. The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, is currently working to produce 40 million vaccines before the Oxford trials are completed. This is to get a jump-start in production in case the vaccine does work.
Ultimately, our way of life has changed a lot in the past month or two. Hopefully, we can all continue to try and put each other’s health first and work to protect those in our communities as best we can, hopefully even after a vaccine is developed.