From Bloomberg, a profile of researcher Sarah Gilbert, who is making tremendous strides with the Oxford vaccine:
At the end of April, crunching a process that normally takes about five years into less than four months, Gilbert and her colleagues at Oxford’s Jenner Institute started a human trial on 1,100 people. When Gilbert testified before a parliamentary committee in early July, one member compared her effort to going into a shed and coming out with a jet engine. Gilbert’s team has leapfrogged other vaccine contenders to the point where it will likely finish vaccinating subjects in its big 10,000-person efficacy trial before other candidates even start testing on that scale, Kate Bingham, chair of the U.K. government’s Vaccine Taskforce, told the parliamentary committee in early July. “She’s well ahead of the world,” Bingham said. “It’s the most advanced vaccine anywhere.”
Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), has sounded a note of caution about Oxford’s front-runner status. “You’ve got to be careful if you’re temporarily leading the way vs. having a vaccine that’s actually going to work,” he told the BBC recently. Most vaccines in development fail to get licensed. Unlike drugs to treat diseases, vaccines are given to healthy people to prevent illness, which means regulators set a high bar for approval and usually want to see years’ worth of safety data. In the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s not yet clear what regulators will accept as proof of a successful and safe vaccine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said a vaccine would need to be 50% more effective than a placebo to be approved and would need to show more evidence than blood tests indicating an immune response. Regulators in other countries haven’t spelled out what would be acceptable.
Gilbert has voiced remarkable confidence in her chances, saying the Oxford vaccine has an 80% probability of being effective in stopping people who are exposed to the novel coronavirus from developing Covid-19. She has said she could know by September. Asked by MPs in early July whether the world would have to struggle through the winter without a vaccine, Gilbert said, “I hope we can improve on those timelines and come to your rescue.”
And then there’s this promising news in today’s New York Times:
An experimental coronavirus vaccine made by the biotech company Moderna provoked a promising immune response against the virus and appeared safe in the first 45 people who received it, researchers reported on Tuesday in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Moderna’s vaccine, developed with researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was the first coronavirus vaccine to be tested in humans, and the company announced on Tuesday that large Phase 3 tests of it would begin on July 27, involving 30,000 people. Half of the participants will be a control group who will receive placebos.
This large clinical trial is expected to be completed by late October. But it’s not clear whether it will be possible to prove the vaccine is safe and effective by then. The trial will need to show that those who were vaccinated were significantly less likely to contract the virus than those who got a placebo. The fastest way to get results is to test the vaccine in a “hot spot” with many cases, and the study is looking for people at high risk because of their locations or circumstances.
Vaccines and improved treatments are the only hope of returning lives back to anything close to normal, and dozens of companies are racing to develop vaccines. Experts agree that more than one vaccine will be needed, because no single company could produce the billions of doses needed.
Lord knows, we don’t lack for prayer intentions during this fraught time. But let’s turn our gaze toward our Blessed Mother, with confidence and hope:
you always shine on our path
as a sign of salvation and of hope.
We entrust ourselves to you, Health of the Sick,
who at the cross took part in Jesus’ pain, keeping your faith firm.
You, Salvation of the Roman People,
know what we need,
and we are sure you will provide
so that, as in Cana of Galilee,
we may return to joy and to feasting
after this time of trial.
Help us, Mother of Divine Love,
to conform to the will of the Father
and to do as we are told by Jesus,
who has taken upon himself our sufferings
and carried our sorrows
to lead us, through the cross,
to the joy of the resurrection. Amen.
Under your protection, we seek refuge, Holy Mother of God. Do not disdain the entreaties of we who are in trial, but deliver us from every danger, O glorious and blessed Virgin.