When is the UK COVID-19 vaccine going to be ready?

UK COVID-19 vaccine, china
© Roop Dey

While AstraZeneca and Oxford University continue to work on a UK COVID-19 vaccine, what about the rest of the world?

The certain timeline of the UK COVID-19 vaccine does not currently exist. Though Health Secretary Matt Hancock suggested that a vaccine would be available in the early half of 2021, vaccines come up against unexpected obstacles and normally take years to stabilise. In addition, the logistics of giving vaccines to thousands of people goes beyond the day that the vaccine is quietly ready for use.

Yet, with the global frenzy of activity, there are promising vaccines taking shape in every continent. And whichever vaccine comes into viable use first, is the one that the UK will be making a deal to buy.

There are currently hundreds of vaccines in pre-trial mode. They are yet to be tested on anything or anyone. The vaccines that we should keep our eyes open for are any currently in Phase 3 of clinical trials. This is the final phase, in which the vaccine is given to thousands of people to confirm its safety. At this point, a control group is placed on a placebo drug, to really compare the efficiency of the vaccine.

Let’s take a closer look at 5 vaccines in Phase 3

1: Sinovac Biotech, China

Sinovac Biotech have progressed to Phase 3. They are a private Chinese company, who reached Phase 2 back in June. They are calling their vaccine CoronaVac. With a Phase 3 trial existing in Brazil, Indonesia and Turkey, the drug has been approved for use on high-risk healthcare workers for a limited time. They have reportedly struck a deal to supply Indonesia with at least 40 million doses by March 2021. Despite vehement tweets by Mr Bolsonaro six days ago that no “chinese vaccine” will be bought, Brazil will be buying CoronaVac and the AstraZeneca vaccine.

2 and 3: Sinopharm in Wuhan and Beijing, China

Sinopharm are a Chinese company who have created an experimental vaccine that could be ready for public use before 2020 ends. This may be the most promising vaccine currently on trial from China. The vaccine is currently being offered to students who will travel abroad via the Wuhan facility. Emergency use approval was given to the vaccine in July. Sinopharm first started Phase 3 trials in the UAE in July, with several countries joining. The last to participate is Serbia, who joined the Phase 3 clinical trial in September. According to The Guardian, 481,613 people had taken the vaccine and 93,653 had applied to receive it as of October 15.

4: AztraZeneca and the University of Oxford, UK

This is the most promising vaccine within the UK. The trial currently has 30,000 participants who have taken the vaccine AZD1222. In September, Phase 3 testing paused briefly as one individual had a suspected case of transverse myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord. It was unclear why or what caused this – but trials are currently on track. This is the vaccine that the UK Government are most confident about. AstraZeneca have even made a deal with Europe’s Inclusive Vaccines Alliance (IVA), to supply up to 400 million doses of the UK COVID-19 vaccine. Deliveries are expected to start by the end of 2020, suggesting that the beginning half of 2021 would be a good time for domestic use.

5: CanSino Biological Inc, China

This China-based biotech firm was the first to reach Phase 1 in the country. This vaccine is  developed in partnership with China’s military research teams. According to research published in The Lancet in May, this COVID-19 vaccine is able to generate an immune response and is tolerated well by the body in low doses. The vaccine is known as Ad5-nCoV. Russia and Pakistan are currently in Phase 3 trials with CanSino. Saudi Arabia is expected to be next in Phase 3 trial participation, with 5000 people ready to join.  However, CanSino famously broke their pact with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) to start testing in Autumn – shipments of supplies were delayed by Chinese customs. This was thought to be an act of revenge after Canada arrested a key official of Huawei, at the request of the US Government. Will this slow them down?

If we have to choose a horse in this race, it seems that China might be the pioneers of the first viable vaccine, closely followed by the UK or the US. There is considerable mistrust between the US and China at this moment, with President Trump openly doubting the trustworthiness of any China-made vaccine. Despite ideas about China manufacturing COVID-19 as part of a bioweapons conspiracy being proven false, the tension remains between the two global powers.

Speaking in September, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general, spoke against the hoarding of vaccines: “If and when we have an effective COVID-19 vaccine, we must also use it effectively. I will repeat again: vaccine nationalism will prolong the pandemic, not shorten it.”


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