Bit of hope on Covid-19 by Tribune Editorial

Even at the breakneck speed at which research is moving, we must keep our optimism cautious

There was some rare bright news on the Covid-19 front this week as two separate vaccine trials in the UK and China have shown promising results in human trials. The vaccine candidates are being developed by Oxford University and the Jiangsu Provincial Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. The British trial involved more than a thousand adults and found that the vaccine induced “strong antibody and T cell immune responses” against Covid-19. Half of the test subjects were given a genetically modified strain of the common cold virus that infects chimpanzees, while the other half were given a placebo. The cold virus in the vaccine was manipulated to develop antibodies and recognise Covid-19 in the body to give a robust T cell response to neutralise the virus. The vaccine caused the immune response to peak around 14 days after being dosed and tapered slightly towards the end of the two-month trial.

The Chinese study was smaller — around 500 subjects. There, a weakened cold virus was modified to deliver genetic material that teaches cells to recognise Covid-19. Subjects were given either high or low doses of the virus. Over 90% of subjects in either group showed antibody or T cell immune responses between two weeks and four weeks. Both studies also cited few serious side effects, which is another good sign. Unfortunately, we are not out of the woods yet. Both studies noted that further testing is necessary on older people, who are most susceptible to Covid-19. There is also the matter of the time it will take to go from trial to production. Among commonly-used vaccines, the fastest-ever development was of the current mumps vaccine. That took four years. Most take decades.

Even at the breakneck speed at which research and development are moving, we must keep our optimism cautious. A vaccine becoming widely available by early next year is the target, but we cannot fool ourselves into assuming that goal will be met. But we can still be hopeful.

­Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd, 2020.

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