SARS-CoV-2 has already claimed over 500,000 deaths worldwide, and although the UK may have defeated the first deadly wave of the virus, there are concerns of a second, more lethal wave. Countries around the world are racing to find a vaccine as early as possible. The first human volunteers have been immunised with Imperial College London’s new vaccine.
After passing strict pre-clinical safety tests and promising results from animal trials, Imperial’s vaccine has started testing on humans in the UK. This new vaccine aims to use a new, synthetic, self-amplifying RNA which will mimic the virus to initiate the host’s immune response into fighting off the virus without harming the host. This means that if the virus ever infects the host in the future, their body will be able to defend against COVID-19.
The trial is being closely monitored with only a few volunteers being immunised each day, with plans to eventually immunise 300 healthy volunteers aged 18-70 in the coming weeks. Every volunteer will receive two doses of the vaccine, the initial dose and then a booster 4 weeks later.
The programme has received £41 million from the UK government, in addition to £5 million in philanthropic donations. A second trial is scheduled to take place in October with 6000 participants if the results for this first phase remain positive.
Imperial College London’s vaccine trial is one of over 120 taking place worldwide, including the University of Oxford’s trial launched in April, which will enrol around 10,300 UK citizens in total.
To be a success, a vaccine must not only be safe and effective, but it must be possible to manufacture enough of the vaccine to immunise approximately 60-70% of the population to achieve herd immunity. Herd immunity is a phenomenon in which a large percentage of the population is immune to a disease, such that the transmission of the disease is unlikely and thus the community as a whole is protected.
A COVID-19 vaccine is expected to be available to the public mid-2021; although this may seem far away, it should be noted that a vaccine usually takes years to develop.