The world’s biggest coronavirus vaccine study began on Monday with the first of an expected 30,000 volunteers getting the first shots.
The vaccine developed by the US National Institutes of Health and pharmaceutical company Moderna is among the vaccines that are furthest along in their development timeline, along with British-Swedish biopharmaceutical AstraZeneca and two Chinese firms.
Participants will get two doses of the vaccine given 28 days apart, and they won’t know if they are getting the real shot or a placebo.
The trial is being co-conducted by the National Institutes for Health (NIH) across the United States and is expected to enrol approximately 30,000 adult volunteers as part of the final stage of its clinical trial.
Ironically, the large number of coronavirus infections across the US means researchers could get their results earlier than expected.
The United States is by far the worst-hit country in the world, with more than 4.2 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and nearly 150,000 deaths.
Daily new cases have plateaued around the 66,000 mark for the past few days, making it more likely that trial participants will be exposed to the virus sooner rather than later.
“It’s a really optimistic scenario. It could be November,” Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel told CNBC on Monday.
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The first volunteer, an African-American woman identified as Robyn, participated in a video chat hosted by the NIH on Monday, telling viewers her friends and relatives had initially told her “it was a bad idea”.
“And the reason for that was because in the African-American community, we are all familiar with the Tuskegee experiments,” she added, referring to a 40-year-study the US conducted on African-American men to see the effects of untreated syphilis.
The men involved were kept in the dark about cures on purpose. But, added Robyn, she was encouraged by laws that are now in place to prevent a repetition, and motivated by the desire to help others against a disease that disproportionately impacts communities of colour.
AUSTRALIA ‘MORE HOPEFUL’ OF VACCINE
On the weekend Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said he’s now more hopeful that a coronavirus vaccine will be developed and that it will be provided to all Australians.
“Previously, I have been very cautious about the progress of vaccine development. Today I can say I am now more confident that we are moving closer to a vaccine that will help protect people all around the world and people in particular of course Australians,” Mr Hunt said on Saturday.
Both he and Prime Minister Scott Morrison have spoken with their international colleagues about international licensing arrangements should a vaccine be developed, Mr Hunt said.
“I now believe we are close to a vaccine and I am confident that if that happens – knowing there is still no certainty – that we will be in a position to provide vaccines for all Australians.”
Mr Hunt’s comments came days after researchers from UK’s Oxford University announced a breakthrough in their vaccine research, saying they’d received positive results from trials.
Research published in the journal Lancet claims an experimental vaccine – labelled ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 – was tested on more than 1000 people and prompted a protective immune response in those aged 18 to 55.
“The vaccine was safe and tolerated,” researchers wrote.
US President Donald Trump has vowed to defeat coronavirus by “unleashing American scientific genius”.
The US has spent more than $6.3 billion since March to fund vaccine development efforts under Operation Warp Speed.
The program aims to procure vaccines for the American people first – unlike European leaders who have called for COVID-19 drugs to be a “global public good”.
Mr Trump appears to have pinned his hopes on the swift emergence of a successful vaccine to both contain the country’s still raging epidemic and revive his faltering re-election hopes.
“We will achieve a victory over the virus by unleashing American scientific genius,” he told reporters at Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies in Morrisville, hours after it was revealed national security adviser Robert O’Brien had tested positive.
The facility has been awarded a contract to mass produce an experimental vaccine developed by Novavax as part of Operation Warp Speed.
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The plan involves investing heavily in leading pharmaceuticals to aid their development and manufacturing efforts, with the goal of delivering 300 million doses of vaccine by January 2021.
It’s “never been done before, but we suspect it’s going to work, and work very well,” added Mr Trump, who later wore a black mask and toured the lab.
Though the number of new cases has levelled off over the past few days, the US has failed to push its curve down as other nations have done through lockdowns and physical distancing.
Mr Trump’s latest comments confirmed that the administration believes that, in America’s case, only a vaccine can help.
“It’s not masks. It’s not shutting down the economy. Hopefully, it is American ingenuity that will allow for therapies and vaccines to ultimately conquer this,” White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told ABC News on Sunday.
– with AFP
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