As the number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases skyrocket to a staggering 18 million, the race to attain vaccine approval is on. More than a hundred candidate vaccines are being developed and tested to prevent infection with the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Now, many vaccine candidates are undergoing human stage 2 and 3 trials to prove their efficacy and safety.
Globally, many countries have already signed agreements worth billions of dollars to secure doses for prospective coronavirus vaccines. These countries are waiting for a vaccine to be developed and deployed for use to prevent infection with the novel coronavirus, which has now killed more than 688,000 since it first emerged in December 2019 in Wuhan City, China.
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Of the candidate vaccines, 26 groups are in clinical evaluation, and six are in the late and final stage of their trials. These include vaccines developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, Sinovac, the Wuhan Institute of Biological Products and Sinopharm, Beijing Institute of Biological Products and Sinopharm, Moderna, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and BioNTech and Pfizer.
Meanwhile, the vaccine developed by Imperial College London has moved on to the next phase of its human trial, called the Imperial COVAC1 study. The scientists spearheading the clinical trial report that they are immunizing hundreds of people with the experimental coronavirus vaccine in an early trial after its successful testing at a low dose in the initial participants. The first trial involved about 15 participants, who were part of the initial dose-escalation phase, who will return to receive their second dose.
Now, the team plans to expand the trial to 320 participants, including high-risk individuals such as people over the age of 75. They will look for and record any adverse effects and reactions to the vaccine and analyze the blood of the participants to detect the presence of neutralizing antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2.
In Australia, a promising coronavirus vaccine has finished its first phase of human trials. The scientists heading the trial say that the vaccine could be available as soon as October. The vaccine, called COVAX-19, was developed by scientists at Flinders University in Adelaide, and it is the first vaccine candidate in the country to move on to phase 2 of clinical trials.
In the phase 1 trial among 40 people in July, the drug has shown to trigger an immune response against the SARS-CoV-2 safely. Since then, the group achieved approval to test the vaccine in more volunteers, including high-risk people such as the elderly, children, and even cancer patients.
Johnson & Johnson vaccine trial
The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson also joins the vaccine race as it has kicked off its safety trials for its coronavirus vaccine after promising results from its monkey study. The vaccine has shown to protect monkeys from the dangers of COVID-19, as published in the journal Nature. The results of the animal trial revealed that the vaccine had protected six out of six monkeys from lung disease and five out of six monkeys from any infection after being exposed to the virus.
With the promising results, the researchers will conduct human trials in Belgium and the United States, with more than 1,000 healthy volunteers between 18 and 55 years old, including some participants who are more than 65 years old. The participants will be assigned to receive the vaccine candidate or a placebo during the trial.
The trial will commence in the chosen clinical study sites in cities that have underserved and underrepresented populations. Also, plans are underway for a Phase 1 study in Japan, and a phase 2 study in Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands. If these trials are successful, the company plans to start phase 3 studies, which will need more volunteers by September.
“We are excited to see these preclinical data because they show our SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidate generated a strong antibody response and provided protection with a single dose. The findings give us confidence as we progress our vaccine development and upscale manufacturing in parallel, having initiated a Phase 1/2a trial in July to move into a Phase 3 trial in September,” Dr. Paul Stoffels, Vice Chairman of the Executive Committee and Chief Scientific Officer, Johnson & Johnson, said.
The United States government has backed the vaccine effort with $456 million in funding as part of its aim to speed up the production of a vaccine that could stem the coronavirus pandemic. The United States has the highest number of infections, with a staggering 4.66 million confirmed cases and more than 154,000 deaths.
The U.S. top infectious disease official, Anthony Fauci, urged warning regarding the safety of COVID-19 vaccines being developed by China and Russia. Many companies in China are leading the race toward the approval of the first coronavirus vaccine to contain the spread of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, Russia is currently developing a candidate vaccine. It says it hopes to be the first in the world to produce a vaccine, targeting the month of September for its approval and release.
Fauci added that it is unlikely that the U.S. would use any vaccine developed by the two countries. He hopes that the two countries are actually testing the vaccine before they are administered to the public.
“Claims of having a vaccine ready to distribute before you do testing, I think, is problematic, at best,” Fauci said.
“We are going very quickly. I do not believe that there will be vaccines, so far ahead of us, that we will have to depend on other countries to get us vaccines,” he added.