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18 May 2020updated 06 Oct 2020 9:45am

Experts raise doubts about Oxford University vaccine after it fails to stop Covid-19 in animal trials

By Samuel Horti

Experts have raised concerns about the effectiveness of the government-backed Oxford University coronavirus vaccine after mixed results in an animal trial.

The vaccine did not stop rhesus macaque monkeys catching the virus in a trial conducted in the US, prompting one academic to call for an “urgent re-appraisal of the ongoing human trials” of the vaccine.

“That viral loads in the noses of vaccinated and unvaccinated animals were identical is very significant,” said Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham. “If the same happened in humans, vaccination would not stop spread.”

Dr William Haseltine, a former Harvard Medical School professor who played a central part in early HIV/Aids treatment development, said the results showed “no difference” in viral RNA in vaccinated monkeys versus unvaccinated monkeys. “Which is to say, all vaccinated animals were infected,” he wrote in an article on Forbes.

Eleanor Riley, professor of immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Whilst the vaccine induced neutralising antibodies and vaccinated animals experienced less severe clinical symptoms than unvaccinated animals (good), the neutralising antibody titres were low and insufficient to prevent infection and – importantly – insufficient to prevent viral shedding in nasal secretions (worrying).”

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If results were similar in humans, the vaccine would only provide partial protection against the disease, and would not prevent its spread, she said.

New Statesman political correspondent Ailbhe Rea has written today about why the government’s gamble on the Oxford University vaccine is a necessary one. You can read the full piece here.