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An Oxford professor has claimed that a vaccine for Covid-19 could be ready by autumn.
Sarah Gilbert is a professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford and leads a team of researchers in developing a vaccine for the coronavirus, which has so far infected more than 1.7 million worldwide.
The global Covid-19 death toll passed 100,000 on Friday, according to data from John Hopkins University.
Professor Gilbert told The Times she was “80 per cent confident” the vaccine being developed by her team would be successful in protecting people against the disease.
She was quoted as saying: “I think there’s a high chance that it will work based on other things that we have done with this type of vaccine. It’s not just a hunch and as every week goes by we have more data to look at.”
Most experts have said a coronavirus vaccine could take up to 18 months to be developed and distributed globally, but Professor Gilbert wants to accelerate the clinical trial process by letting volunteers become infected naturally as soon as possible.
She said volunteers from places that have no imposed lockdown measures would produce more efficient results.
“If one of those (places) turns out to have a high rate of virus transmission then we will get our efficacy results very quickly, so that is one strategy for reducing the time.”
Developing a working vaccine by September was “just about possible if everything goes perfectly”, added Professor Gilbert, but she warned that nobody could promise it would work.
The government is poised to spend millions of pounds for a viable vaccine to have it ready for use and the team is in talks with the government about starting production of the vaccine before the final results become available.
Professor Gilbert said: “We don’t want to get to later this year and discover we have a highly effective vaccine and we haven’t got any vaccine to use.”
Other experts have expressed confidence in Professor Gilbert’s claim, and said the Oxford team is highly advanced.
Professor of microbial pathogenesis at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Brendan Wren, said: “The Oxford vaccine group are among the most advanced groups in the world and have been working on vaccine biopreparedness for several years.
“This means that they can test and evaluate Covid-19 vaccine candidates rapidly (even in human volunteers). A strong vaccine candidate available by September would not be surprising.”
However, Professor Brendan warned that because the UK lacks manufacture capabilities, it might be “at the back of the queue” if it depends on other countries with manufacturing capacity, such as Germany, Belgium and France.
“Desperate times require desperate measures, so upscaling and manufacture would be justified before data is fully known,” he said.
“Even if the vaccine didn’t prove effective this would be a useful trial run for the manufacture of alternative Covid-19 vaccines and vaccines against other viral and bacterial diseases.”
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