As part of its operation “Operation Warp Speed,” which is intended to create a safe, effective vaccine for the coronavirus widely available to Americans by 2021, the U.S. government will pay as much as $1.2 billion so a vaccine developed in England could be available by October.
The funds given to AstraZeneca and Oxford University’s Jenner Institute will help pay for a 30,000-person vaccine trial in the U.S. to begin this summer as well as the capacity to make at least 300 million doses. Alex Azar, the Health and Human Services secretary, stated:
This contract with AstraZeneca is a major milestone in Operation Warp Speed’s work toward a safe, effective, widely available vaccine by 2021. Getting a vaccine to the American public as soon as possible is one part of President Trump’s multi-faceted strategy for safely reopening our country and bringing life back to normal, which is essential to Americans’ physical and mental well-being in so many ways. The Trump Administration is making multiple major investments in developing and manufacturing promising vaccines long before they’re approved so that a successful vaccine will reach the American people without a day wasted.
“The vaccine in question was developed by the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute and is one of a small group of candidates already being tested in humans. Others include vaccines from Pfizer Inc.and Moderna Inc. AstraZeneca, under a licensing deal with Oxford, has responsibility for manufacturing the university’s vaccine, and has promised to sell the vaccine without making a profit during the pandemic,” The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported.
The AstraZeneca deal is not the only deal the U.S. government has made to expedite the development of a vaccine; Johnson & Johnson received $456 million to increase production of its potential vaccine to 300 million doses; Moderna received $483 million for a similar reason. WSJ cautioned, “Many promising drugs and vaccines falter during clinical trials.”
Oxford has already begun testing its vaccine on people; an 1,100-person study began in April, and if its results look promising, U.K. trial will test roughly 10,000 participants starting in June. The Journal noted:
Its vaccine has progressed quickly, in part because it uses a technology that has been deployed in earlier vaccines developed by the university. It uses an inactivated chimpanzee virus containing the genetic sequence for the “spike protein” found on the new coronavirus.
In a small animal study, not yet peer-reviewed, it appeared to stop the virus from spreading to the lungs, protecting the inoculated monkeys from developing pneumonia. It was unclear whether the vaccine stopped infection entirely, however, as the vaccinated monkeys tested positive for virus in their noses.
Bloomberg News reported, “A smaller part of the trial will expand the age range of testing to children from 5 to 12 years old and adults 56 and older, according to a statement. The other, larger stage will test the vaccine’s effectiveness in volunteers 18 and older.” Bloomberg added, “Adult subjects in the studies will be randomly chosen to receive one or two doses of the Oxford candidate or an already licensed vaccine against meningococcus for comparison. The volunteers will be recruited across the U.K. and will record their reactions in an e-diary and attend some follow-up visits. Some will be given swabs for taking samples at home.”
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