Worldwide, the COVID-19 virus has killed around 750 thousand people with Americans accounting for over 160 thousand of that total. Throughout the world, the lives of citizens have been gravely disrupted by this pandemic over the last six months, and experts predict the fall season may be worse. The only way to bring this crisis to an end is to develop a safe and effective vaccine. Fortunately, the race for this vaccine is progressing well, and several companies are in the later stages of their scientific trials. In fact, the US Government has chosen to invest in the three of the following vaccine candidates:
University of Oxford/AstraZeneca Trial
Many scientists are hopeful about this trial, which has entered stage 3 human testing in Brazil and will soon begin this level of testing in the UK and the US.
Officially known as the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine, the Oxford vaccine is created from a common cold virus, or adenovirus, that attacks chimpanzees. In short, researchers have altered the virus by adding genes that will attack the coronavirus spike proteins when it encounters them. The resulting vaccine, so far, is causing only mild side effects. The company hopes to deliver a significant number of doses in clinical trials by the end of the year.
Moderna and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) are working together on this vaccine candidate, which was the first to be tested on humans in the US. This vaccine depends on new and exciting technology. Messenger RNA is used to train cells to make viral proteins and trigger an immune response in humans.
The phase 3 trial began in late July in the US, and the first results from the trial should be available by November. Until the vaccine is approved, only the trial participants, predicted to be about 30,000 by summer’s end, will potentially benefit. At this point, half the vaccine subjects report mild side effects comparable to those caused by regular flu vaccines.
The Pfizer/Biontech offering, a BNT162 mRNA-based candidate against SARS-CoV, will soon be distributed to the Canadian government and will be given to Canadian citizens pending successful clinical trials and Health Canada approval. Like the Moderna offering, this candidate uses messenger RNA to build immunity to the COVID-19 virus.
Pfizer is developing four investigational candidates, two of which the FDA has given Fast Track designation. They are entering phase 2/3 trials and, if these are successful, the companies may seek regulatory review in October 2020. If Pfizer and Biontech receive approval, they hope to supply 100 million doses by the end of 2020.
China has two offerings in trials that look promising, the CanSino Biologics/Beijing Institute of Biology vaccine and the Sinovac Biotech vaccine. Both have reported positive results from Phase 1/2 testing, and the CanSino vaccine may soon be in phase 3 trials outside of the US.
Russia has announced the only approved COVID-19 vaccine so far, the Sputnik 5. However, experts worldwide are skeptical since this vaccine has been tested in just 76 people, a number far below the scientific community’s standards. As a result, Russia’s announcement is viewed as premature and dangerous.
The race for a vaccine is progressing more quickly than many experts imagined, but hope for widespread distribution of vaccines in 2020 is unrealistic. Some of these vaccines may be ready in that time frame, but getting doses to everyone will take time. The first focus will be on high-risk patients, so the general population will probably be waiting to receive their shots until well into 2021.
Overall, the news on the vaccine front is good, but the world’s citizens will need to practice social distancing, wear masks, and avoid indoor gatherings for the foreseeable future. It’s more reasonable to hope for normalcy by the fall or end of 2021.