Unfortunately, according to interpretation of recent preclinical study monkey data, Oxford University’s SARS-CoV-2 vaccine called ChAdOx1 failed to prevent the study monkey’s from being infected with SARS-CoV-2, dashing the UK’s hopes of a safe and effective vaccine this year. Among the top candidates in the global vaccine race, details emerged squashing hopes for the short run.
Apparently, a group of macaque monkeys were infected with COVID-19 and treated with the Oxford University experimental vaccine. The results revealed that the vaccine failed to block infection and it did not stop the animals from spreading the infection to others monkeys.
The results did reveal that the vaccine may reduce the severity of the infection, as reported by the National Institute of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratory—the critical observation from a Forbes article authored by former Harvard Medical School professor Dr. William Haseltine. Several Indian news outlets picked up on this story, including the Times of India as well as the Business Standard and some (but few) Western ones reported on this news as well such as Derek Lowe’s “In the Pipeline” blog in Science and the UK’s Express.
Dr. William Haseltine, writing in Forbes, questioned why they would continue the study in humans. According to Dr. Haseltine, the data—uploaded to preprint server BioRxiv—reveals that actually all of the monkeys exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and treated with the promising Oxford vaccine called ChAdOx1 became infected with the disease when the factoring in the analysis of recovery of virus genomic RNA from nasal secretions. Haseltine continued that the delta between vaccinated monkeys and unvaccinated monkeys was nil. One interpretation of this fact: all of the monkeys were infected by SARS-CoV-2 and hence, the vaccine really doesn’t work! Haseltine contrasts this to recent Sinovac trial, which revealed that those monkeys infected with the highest doses showed no trace of virus from the throat, lung or rectum. Derek Lowe suggests this may not be an “apples to apples” comparison. However, there are complexities that must be considered before making sweeping declarations.
The UK’s Express reported that according to Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham, if this same scenario occurred in humans, the vaccine would not serve as a hinderance to the pathogen nor from spreading it to others.
Professor Ball commented that the whole trial should be re-considered. Professor Robin Shattock, head of mucosal infection and immunity at Imperial College London suggests no vaccine will be available—at least widely—until sometime in 2021. He told BBC Radio 4 he is upbeat about the prognosis of a vaccine as the target is a lot well known now.
Apparently the vaccine team responded, “As we write the clinical trials of these vaccines continue and we will soon have results giving us a better indication of the safety and potential efficacy of Oxford vaccine.”
The response included, “The world needs multiple vaccines and it is our hope that of the many vaccines in development at least some will show promising efficacy and rapidly move to late-stage trials subsequent to approval as soon as possible.”
Haseltine suggests the fundamental questions, given the observations. Does the Oxford group move forward? After all, tens of millions (if not more) has already been invested not to mention a worldwide deal with AstraZeneca. Information is power, and once knowledge is available that elicits critical questions there should be a healthy debate even despite the imperative of the day—no? Haseltine suggests the Oxford group could look at ways to make the current vaccine’s immunogenicity better or even combination strategy. But he concludes that regardless, a troublesome reality is inescapable given what has been uncovered.
Call to Action: TrialSite News welcomes a healthy debate on this topic. The Oxford team under Sarah Gilbert are a brilliant group. We wish for their success but also would like to read a formal rebuttal to the present critiques which appear credible and serious.