A coronavirus vaccine developed by the University of Oxford seems safe and trains the immune system.
Trials involving 1,077 people have shown that the injection led them to make antibodies and white blood cells capable of fighting the coronavirus.
The results are extremely promising, but it is still too early to know if this is enough to offer protection and more extensive trials are underway.
The UK has already ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine.
How does the vaccine work?
The vaccine – called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 – is being developed at an unprecedented rate.
It is made from a genetically modified virus that causes the common cold in chimpanzees.
It has been greatly modified, firstly to not cause infections in humans and also to make it “look” more like a coronavirus.
Scientists did this by transferring the genetic instructions from the coronavirus’ “spike protein” – the crucial tool it uses to invade our cells – to the vaccine they were developing.
This means that the vaccine looks like coronavirus and the immune system can learn to attack it.
What are antibodies and T cells?
So far the focus has been on coronaviruses over antibodies, but these are only part of our immune defense.
Antibodies are small proteins made by the immune system that adhere to the surface of viruses.
Neutralizing antibodies can deactivate the coronavirus.
T lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell, help coordinate the immune system and are able to locate cells in the body that have been infected and destroy them.
Almost all effective vaccines induce both an antibody and T-cell response
T cell levels peaked 14 days after vaccination and antibody levels peaked after 28 days. The study did not last long enough to understand what long-term immunity might look like.
Is it safe?
Yes, but there are side effects.
There were no dangerous side effects from taking the vaccine, however, 70% of those in the trial developed fever or headaches.
Researchers say it could be managed with paracetamol.
Professor Sarah Gilbert, University of Oxford, UK, says: ‘There is still a lot of work to be done before we can confirm whether our vaccine will help manage the COVID-19 pandemic, but these early results are promising. ”
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