Oxford coronavirus vaccine: How does it work and when will it be available in the UK?
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With coronavirus cases around the world now at over 56 million, scientists have been working around the clock to develop a vaccine.
A jab developed at the University of Oxford has been tipped as the front-runner, with results showing the effectiveness expected in the coming week.
Promising Phase II trial data released today suggests the jab produces a strong immune response in older adults.
Dr Maheshi Ramasamy, investigator at the Oxford Vaccine Group and consultant physician, said: "Older adults are a priority group for Covid-19 vaccination, because they are at increased risk of severe disease, but we know that they tend to have poorer vaccine responses.
"We were pleased to see that our vaccine was not only well tolerated in older adults, but also stimulated similar immune responses to those seen in younger volunteers.
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"The next step will be to see if this translates into protection from the disease itself."
But how does the Oxford vaccine actually work?
Here’s everything you need to know about the jab, including how it works and when it could be available in the UK.
How does the Oxford Covid-19 vaccine work?
The vaccine – called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 – uses a harmless, weakened version of a common virus which causes a cold in chimpanzees.
Researchers have already used this technology to produce vaccines against a number of pathogens including flu, Zika and Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers).
The virus is genetically modified so it is impossible for it to grow in humans.
Scientists have transferred the genetic instructions for coronavirus's specific "spike protein" – which it needs to invade cells – to the vaccine.
How the Oxford Covid-19 vaccine works
(Image: Press Association Images)
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When the vaccine enters cells inside the body, it uses this genetic code to produce the surface spike protein of the coronavirus.
This induces an immune response, priming the immune system to attack coronavirus if it infects the body.
How is it different from Pfizer and Moderna’s jabs?
While the Oxford vaccine uses a weakened version of a common virus which causes a cold in chimpanzees, the jabs from Pfizer and Moderna are messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines.
Conventional vaccines are produced using weakened forms of the virus, but mRNAs use only the virus's genetic code.
An mRNA vaccine is injected into the body where it enters cells and tells them to create antigens.
An mRNA vaccine is injected into the body (stock photo)
(Image: AFP via Getty Images)
These antigens are recognised by the immune system and prepare it to fight coronavirus.
No virus is needed to create an mRNA vaccine. This means the rate at which the vaccine can be produced is accelerated.
Can the Oxford vaccine be manufactured to scale?
Yes. The UK Government has secured 100 million doses as part of its contract, enough for most of the population.
The head of the UK Vaccine Taskforce, Kate Bingham, has said she is confident it can be produced at scale.
When will the Oxford jab be available in the UK?
Experts hope the jab could be ready to go and rolled out shortly.
Andrew Pollard, the chief trial investigator, says that late-stage trial results could be presented by the end of the year, and there’s a ‘small chance’ the jab could be ready by Christmas.
"I'm optimistic that we could reach that point before the end of this year," Mr Pollard said of presenting trial results this year.
Asked if the vaccine would be ready by Christmas he said: ”There is a small chance."
Can this vaccine help the elderly?
There have been concerns that a Covid-19 vaccine will not work as well on elderly people, much like the annual flu jab.
However, data from the Oxford-AstraZeneca trial suggests there have been "similar" immune responses among younger and older adults.
The results show that the vaccine is better tolerated in older people compared with younger adults, and produces a similar immune response in old and young adults.
The university will start an initial analysis of data from its late-stage trial of the experimental Covid-19 vaccine it is developing with AstraZeneca after 53 infections among its volunteers, the study's chief investigator said today.
The Oxford Vaccine Group's director Andrew Pollard said there were "lots of cases" of infections in its Phase III trial in Britain, Brazil and South Africa.
The first two sets of interim data from vaccine trials from Pfizer and BioNTech last week and Moderna on Monday were released after more than 90 infections among volunteers.