The Oxford vaccine

Professor Sarah Gilbert

Professor Sarah Gilbert, University of Oxford Jenner Institute

The World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a pandemic on 11 March 2020. Even before then, scientists around the world had started work on a potential vaccine.

The Oxford vaccine is based on decades of in-depth research, supported by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca.

It has been shown to be effective, safe, easily distributed and administered. It will be available on a not-for-profit basis during the pandemic.

The first doses of the Oxford vaccine were administered in the United Kingdom  in April 2020 as part of the vaccine’s trials.

The Oxford team

The Oxford COVID-19 vaccine team comprises scientists from the Jenner Institute and the Oxford Vaccine Group. It is led by:

  • Professor Sarah Gilbert
  • Professor Andrew Pollard
  • Professor Teresa Lambe
  • Dr Sandy Douglas
  • Professor Catherine Green
  • Professor Adrian Hill.

The team has decades of experience in vaccine research, and have been regularly funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and other UKRI councils.

Professor Ottoline Leyser, Chief Executive of UKRI said:

We are proud to have supported this promising and inexpensive vaccine, which could be easily distributed at fridge temperature and administered by healthcare systems worldwide.

The Oxford-led vaccine team was among the first in the world to develop a vaccine candidate for COVID-19 because the team had a head start; the UK government has been investing in its vaccine research and development since before the current pandemic began.

Find out how they were able to move quickly to start developing a vaccine for COVID-19 and begin human trials by April 2020.

Video above: How did Oxford University move so fast to create a coronoavirus vaccine? (Credit: UKRI). An autogenerated video transcript is available on YouTube.

How does the Oxford vaccine work?

The Oxford vaccine (ChAdOx1 nCoV-19) is made from a virus that is a weakened version of a common cold virus known as an adenovirus. This adenovirus has been genetically changed so that it cannot cause infections in humans The team has engineered ChAdOx1 to make a specific coronavirus protein, known as the spike protein, from the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The immune system should be able to recognise the spike protein as foreign, form antibodies and then attack the SARS-CoV-2 virus and stop it from causing an infection.
By bluffing the body in this way it is hoped that long-lasting immunity can be provided through vaccination.

The Oxford team chose ChAdOx1 as the platform for a COVID-19 vaccine as it had previously generated a strong immune response from one dose in other vaccines for similar coronaviruses like Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

When the vaccine candidate was tested on animals by scientists at the BBSRC-supported Pirbright Institute in March 2020, the results were promising. They showed that a second dose gives a significant boosting effect compared to a single dose.

It’s also a well-studied approach to vaccine development that has been used safely in thousands of subjects.

The teams had already used ChAdOx1 vaccine technology to produce candidate vaccines against a number of pathogens including flu, Zika and MERS, another coronavirus.

Is the vaccine effective?

The Oxford vaccine began clinical trials in April 2020, when 1000 people were given the vaccine.

Video above: The first human trial of a COVID-19 vaccine in Europe (credit: UKRI). An autogenerated video transcript is available on YouTube.

The team has made rapid progress since the pandemic was announced and has shared data and results with the international community:

What happens next?

The vaccine has now been authorised for emergency use by the World Health Organisation and AstraZeneca hopes to supply three billion doses to people in 145 countries in the first half of 2021.

The team is extending the trial to include children and young people aged 6-17.

For more information, visit: The Oxford Vaccine (Research at Oxford).

Last updated: 1 March 2021

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