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Vaccines may not be silver bullet

Monday September 7th 2020

Experts have warned against excessive optimism over COVID-19 vaccines – with one senior scientist warning they would not be a “silver bullet.”

Wellcome Trust director Sir Jeremy Farrar said the first vaccines would probably only be partly effective.

He spoke as the first clinical findings from the Russian Sputnik programme were reported and UK scientists pointed to the potential of T cell memory to combat the virus.

Writing for The Observer, Sir Jeremy said: “The first vaccine may not be a silver bullet that sends us back to normal in a matter of months, but by using doses wisely on people who most need them along with truthful, considered public health messaging that does not place false expectations, we will be in a strong position to avoid a repeat of early 2020.

“I am optimistic we will soon see results from the first vaccines coming through late-stage clinical trials,” Farrar writes. “However, we must temper this optimism, talk of the perfect vaccine ‘just around the corner’, or that it can be given to everyone immediately.

“The speed and scale of vaccine development has been remarkable but it’s important to avoid false hope.”

He added: “Trust is our most important tool in public health and we must do everything we can to avoid putting that in any doubt. It cannot be bought on short-term promises. Already there are worrying signs of diminishing trust in potential COVID-19 vaccines.”

The global InterAcademy Partnership also warned against “cutting corners” in the development of a vaccine. It warned that failure to conduct thorough clinical trials, anti-vaxxers and vaccine nationalism all posed a threat.

Its president Volker ter Meulen, a virologist, said: “The race for a COVID-19 vaccine must not be allowed to hurt the public: while there is a pressing need to accelerate this process to the greatest degree possible, there are also grave dangers if corners are cut.”

* A British research project has found strong evidence that T cell memory may be a strong defence against the COVID-19 virus.

The Oxford University researchers have reported their findings in Nature Immunology.

The study involved 28 mild and 14 severely ill patients compared with 16 healthy donors.

Researchers identified peptides containing T cell epitopes, including six epitope clusters targeted by T cells in many patients.

Researcher Professor Tao Dong, from the UK Medical Research Council immunology unit, said: “By studying the T cell immune response in depth and breadth, we will begin to build a better understanding of why some individuals develop milder disease, and how we might be able to prevent or treat infections.

“T cells may also be longer lasting than antibodies, and so could offer alternative methods to diagnose whether someone has had a past COVID-19 infection, after antibody levels have waned.”

* The Lancet reported the preliminary results from the Russian trials of the country’s Sputnik 5 vaccine.

This showed antibody response and no serious adverse events from the two part vaccine made from recombinant human adenovirus type 26 (rAd26-S) and recombinant human adenovirus type 5. 76 people took part in the trial.

The researchers also found a T cell response.

The Russian government has caused controversy by granting the vaccine an immediate licence for use in advance of planned phase 3 trials, which will involve 40,000 people.

Nature Immunology 4 September 2020

Lancet 4 September 2020

Tags: Europe | Flu & Viruses | Pharmaceuticals | UK News

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