At least two major coronavirus vaccine trials are expected to publish results before Christmas.
On The Hard Shoulder this evening, the Head of the UK Vaccine Taskforce said three vaccine trials are “getting very close to being at the end of their clinical studies.”
Kate Bingham said two of them are “vaccines that we have secured for the UK.”
“That is the Oxford vaccine that is partnered with AstraZenica and the German vaccine from Beyondtech that is partnered with Pfizer,” she said.
“Both of those have gotten to a point where they have recruited enough people to have completed their study in terms of enrolment.”
She said both trials have “two massive questions” to answer in the coming weeks.
- Have enough people involved in the trials been exposed to the virus?
- Is the vaccine effective?
“Those are the two unknowns but I am hopeful there is a good chance we will get a look at that data this side of Christmas,” she said.
“All we know is that the studies have been running for a reasonable amount of time and because of the increased infections we are seeing in the UK, the US and elsewhere, we think infections should also be rising in the clinical trial cohort.”
Ms Bingham said the vaccine process has been accelerated to meet the challenges posed by the virus; however, she said the required safety tests are as strict as ever.
“The reason it takes a long time normally to develop vaccines is, first of all, there is a lot of red tape to get all the different ethics and regulatory approvals and all those things together – all that bureaucracy has been eliminated,” she said.
“Funding has also been released that allows, in the clinical trials, Phase Two and Phase Three to be compressed – so instead of running each trial sequentially, they have been run in parallel.
“But the one thing that has not changed is the clinical trial safety testing.
“The first time you put a vaccine or a drug into a person, that is the Phase One trial, those Phase Trials are identical. There are no changes in standards and there are no changes in how those trials are being run.”
She said anything that can safely be accelerated has been accelerated.
“For example we are paying for manufacturing to be scaled up and for these vaccines to be manufactured now before we know whether they are safe and effective so we will have vaccine available should they prove to work and be safe,” she said.
“Now that may be entirely wasted if it turns out those vaccines don’t work or they are not safe but just to ensure that we get vaccines to people as soon as we can if they are safe and effective we will have vaccines manufactured and ready to go.
“So, I don’t accept that the safety testing in any way has been rushed or that standards have been compromised.”
She said there will naturally be those who have concerns about taking a vaccine after it is approved and warned that it is essential Governments do not attempt to dismiss those concerns out of hand.
“There are lots of people out there who want to know what can these vaccines do, what can’t they do and why should people either take it or not take it,” she said.
“It is actually about having a conversation with the public to discuss and engage with the concerns they may have and instead of getting into marketing and sloganeering actually have a slightly more scientific conversation about what is possible and what is not possible.
“We have to recognise that people want to have a choice, they want to be heard and they want to have the information so they can make a choice.”
She said Governments have a responsibility to make the information available and clearly understandable for the public.