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Researchers from the Oxford Vaccine Group and Oxford’s Jenner Institute have been working with unprecedented speed and ambition to develop a vaccine candidate for Covid-19. Clinical trials have started, plans are being put in place for large-scale production and it is hoped that the vaccine may be ready within the year.
The group are using a chimpanzee adenovirus vaccine vector (ChAdOx1) as it can generate a strong immune response with one dose and is not a replicating virus, so it cannot cause an ongoing infection in the vaccinated individual. Such chimpanzee adenoviral vectors are very well-studied and have a track record of being used safely.
Coronaviruses have club-shaped spikes on their outer coats. The Oxford vaccine contains the genetic sequence of this surface spike protein. It is hoped that the Oxford vaccine will make the body recognise and develop an immune response to the spike protein so that the immune system will attack the coronavirus if it later infects the body.
The team in Oxford have experience developing a vaccine for a human coronavirus disease, having worked on MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) with some success in early clinical trials. They hope to apply their knowledge and experience to launch a vaccine for Covid-19 as swiftly and effectively as possible.