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And it emerged that widespread testing was abandoned in March due to forecasts that a million could soon be infected. Experts are recruiting more than 10,000 more people for the Oxford University search for a cure. Phase I trials of 1,000 Britons aged 55 and under started last month. Professor Andrew Pollard, head of the Oxford Vaccine Group leading the project, said: “The next phase is looking at those over 55 and then a second group who are over 70 years of age.
“The reason why that is important is because immune responses tend to be less strong.
“We want to study that in great detail in that age group as well as to see if there are any differences in vaccine safety.”
Some 10,260 people, including five to 12-year-olds, will be included in the phase II trial.
Adults will receive one or two doses of either the new vaccine – CHADOX1 nCoV-19 – or another licensed vaccine. Researchers will then compare the number of coronavirus cases in both groups and assess the immune response in people of different ages.
This could take between two and six months.
Prof Pollard said: “It’s a very difficult question to know exactly when we’ll have proof the vaccine works because we need within our population of 10,000 people to have enough of those who have been exposed to the virus over that time. In some ways we hope there won’t be very many cases because that would suggest we have great success in managing social distancing and so on.
An employee works at the Stabilitech laboratory in Burgess Hill south east England (Image: BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)
“But if there are cases then it is certainly possible by the autumn to have a result.”
Tests of the vaccine appear to have given monkeys immunity from pneumonia. Primates also had less of the virus in their lungs and airways. Prof Pollard said: “That really supports moving forward with the vaccine in humans because actually that’s what we really want to know – whether it can prevent pneumonia and severe infection in humans.”
Meanwhile, the Government abandoned widespread tracing of coronavirus infections in March after forecasts that a million people could soon have the disease, the Government’s testing tsar revealed yesterday. Professor John Newton told MPs that attempting to copy the successful South Korean mass-testing model was seen as “not worthwhile” in the face of fears the outbreak was running out of control.
He told the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee that ministers had switched their strategy towards imposing lockdown.
Professor John Newton (Image: Aaron Chown/PA Wire/PA Images)
He said: “The epidemiology was crucial, we had an increase in the number of cases in March, the advice from modellers was that within a short period we would expect to be having a million cases in the UK. And if you have a million cases there’s no way, however much contact tracing or testing capacity you have, that you can pursue the South Korea model.
“At that point the Government made the decision to move to lockdown as the most appropriate response.”
Prof Newton admitted that more than half of the coronavirus home-testing kits sent out had not been returned. He also said the public should not rely on antibody tests bought over the internet.
When asked about new tests available from firms including Superdrug, he said better ones would be available soon.
He said: “The public needs to be aware that those tests are not the same as those we have evaluated and approved for use.
“My advice would be to wait until we have better tests which will be available in a similar form very soon.”