Coronavirus vaccine trial on humans begins in the UK

Neal Browning receives a shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, Monday, March 16, 2020, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. Browning is the second patient to receive the shot in the study. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

By CNN for Lolwe digital

Scientists in the UK will begin trials of a potential coronavirus vaccine on humans Thursday, as the government warns it could have to rely on social distancing measures until next year assuming no vaccine or treatment is found before then.

England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said Wednesday that the probability of having a vaccine or treatment “anytime in the next calendar year” is “incredibly small.”

“I think we should be realistic about that, we’re going to have to rely on other social measures,” Whitty said.

The human vaccine trial has been developed by scientists at Oxford University’s Jenner Institute and will begin Thursday, the university confirmed to CNN.

Sarah Gilbert, professor of vaccinology at Oxford University, told The Times of London she was “80% confident” that the vaccine being developed by her team would work. It is hoped about a million doses could ready by September.

The Oxford vaccine candidate, called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, is made from a harmless chimpanzee virus.

“Vaccines made from the ChAdOx1 virus have been given to more than 320 people to date and have been shown to be safe and well tolerated, although they can cause temporary side effects, such as a temperature, headache or sore arm,” according to the University of Oxford.

The UK has been in so-called lockdown, with restrictions on leaving the house except for essential reasons and daily exercise in force since March 23.

As the number of new coronavirus cases start to plateau, the government is now turning to the next part of its strategy to combat the virus: test, track and trace.

The government has repeatedly promised the UK will test 100,000 people for Covid-19 per day by the end of April. That is just seven days away, yet government figures released Wednesday showed only 13,522 people had been tested in a 24-hour period.

First Secretary of State Dominic Raab, who is deputizing for Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he recovers from coronavirus, told Parliament on Wednesday the UK’s capacity for tests is now at “40,000 a day,” raising questions as to why that number of tests is not actually being carried out.

Raab said he expects to see “an exponential increase” in the next week and the government is making “good progress” and will meet its target.

Meanwhile, the UK hopes to enlist up to 300,000 people to a major long-term study to track the spread of coronavirus in the population, and understand the levels of immunity. Authorities hope that the study will help improve understanding of how many people are infected, and how many have developed antibodies, and possible immunity, to the virus.

Participants will form “a representative sample of the entire UK population by age and geography” with initial findings expected in early May, a government statement said Wednesday.

Participants will provide samples taken from self-administered nose and throat swabs, and answer a few short questions during a home visit by a trained health worker. The swab tests will show whether or not participants currently have the virus. They will be asked to take further tests every week for the first five weeks, then every month for 12 months.

Adults from around 1,000 households will also provide a blood sample taken by a trained health worker. These tests will help determine what proportion of the population has developed antibodies to Covid-19. Participants will be asked to give further samples monthly for the next 12 months, according to authorities.

“This survey will help to track the current extent of transmission and infection in the UK, while also answering crucial questions about immunity as we continue to build up our understanding of this new virus,” UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in a statement. “Together, these results will help us better understand the spread of the virus to date, predict the future trajectory and inform future action we take, including crucially the development of ground-breaking new tests and treatments,” Hancock added.

The study will begin with a smaller pilot phase in England only.

healthcare workers. Raab told Parliament on Wednesday that 69 National Health Service (NHS) workers with Covid-19 have now died.