In our latest webinar, WBR consultant Dr. Ash Ramzan presented an overview of the drugs and vaccines development process and answered attendees’ most pressing questions about Covid-19 treatments and preventions.
We’ve outlined those burning questions, and Ash’s answers, in this blog.
When do you think vaccines will be rolled out to the public?
The process is already starting to happen in many countries. Dossiers for the three lead vaccines are currently under review with the regulators and as soon as they are approved, healthcare systems are prepared to start distributing them to the public.
This may well be as soon as the beginning/middle of December 2020.
How have they developed these vaccines so quickly?
A lot of this work was already happening — historically there have been groups developing treatments for infections that receive must less publicity and notice, especially in the western world.
The development of Covid-19 vaccines has been accelerated as the financial risks to commercial manufacturers have been removed, thanks to government backing.
The creators of a vaccine normally must source funding — which can be upwards of £2m for each phase — but these costs have been publicly funded.
Manufacturers were also able to start making vaccines before they have been authorised by health regulators, with government backing to mitigate any risk. As soon as the genetic code was known, AstraZeneca started to manufacture its vaccine as early as April this year. Normally, this is not possible as commercial manufacturers do not want to take this risk.
Naturally, the immediate availability of funding — along with the total removal of any monetary risk to developers — has allowed scientists to create vaccines in record time.
It is important to note that no corners have been cut in clinical development. If anything, these vaccines have been more robustly analysed than ever before. Typically, phase III clinical trials see about 3,000-5,000 subjects take part. In the case of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, over 30,000 volunteers were included, resulting in much more data to prove safety and efficacy.
Ethnicity seems to effect Covid-19 severity, how can we ensure that trials are inclusive?
Researchers are ensuring that a diverse range of demographics is selected when enrolling individuals in phase III trials.
Once we head into phase IV (post-market analysis), manufacturers can closely monitor varying demographics to find out how the vaccine affects them and can use this data to further develop inclusive preventions for all.
How can scientists better communicate with the general public that the vaccine is safe?
Scientists, in general, don’t really like to put themselves ‘out there’, preferring to just get on with what they do best – the science.
This controversy around getting inoculated highlights the need for scientists to be more vocal when sharing research and data to allay fears.
The life sciences sector as a whole needs to get better at delivering these types of messages, and hopefully, the pandemic has been the encouragement it needs to start doing this.
Why is Covid-19 more dangerous than other coronavirus strains such as SARS and MERS?
The answer here is that we don’t really know. SARS and MERS seem to burn out quite quickly and have not affected Europe the way that Covid-19 has.
There are already four coronavirus strains at large in Europe currently, but Covid-19 virulence seems to be much higher than others.
How would you rate the vaccines developed to date?
I think that the work that has been done is amazing and I give kudos to all the researchers and scientists working on these projects. They have been working away behind the scenes with little recognition apart from their own peers.
I would get the vaccination today if I was offered it. The risks are minuscule compared to that of the disease.
Part of how we move forward from this is finding mechanisms and ways to ensure the life sciences sector doesn’t become the ‘poor cousin’ of other industries. More spending in this sector is needed — safeguarding the population in this way is just as important as traditional defence spending.
Protecting our public health and economy is vital to the security of the realm.
Will a comprehensive rollout of the vaccine mean a move back to ‘normal’?
There is a rollout programme designed for Europe, based on risk and exposure. It is unlikely that anyone under the age of 30 not working in frontline settings will receive the vaccine within the next 12 months.
This is a global issue, and although we may be able to eradicate it in developed countries, if it is not tackled in the developing world, the virus will mutate. Whilst most mutations make it less virulent, we can’t rule out the possibility that an evolution of the virus could result in a more dangerous strain.
There should be a huge cross-nation vested interest in vaccinating the global population.
How long will the protection last?
Currently, clinical trials have only been operating for up to nine months, so that is our benchmark.
As they continue over long periods of time, we’ll get a better understanding of how long it lasts.
Adverse effects are relatively minor, and include mild fever and local soreness — usually seen within two to three weeks – so we can confirm that these vaccines are safe.
If this is a topic of interest for you, connect with us on social media to find out more about the life sciences sector’s battle against Covid-19.
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