Clinical trials for a COVID-19 vaccine are about to start, with the first beginning on Monday, according to a US government official.
The US trial is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), with 45 young, healthy participants being given small doses of shots. The shots won’t contain the virus itself, but rather to test for side effects ahead of larger trials.
What are researchers working on?
As well as the US, many other research groups are racing to develop a vaccine.
To broaden the scope, the researchers are exploring different types of vaccines and technologies, with some looking into temporary vaccines to guard people’s health for a couple months while the others are being developed.
In terms of treatment, the Kaletra drug is one of the most hopeful. Kaletra is a combination of two anti-HIV drugs and remdesivir, which was trialled for Ebola a few years ago.
In China, doctors are also exploring chloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, which is cheap and highly available. The results for these are expected mid-March.
Two recently published papers in the journal Cell have looked at the ways to stop the virus entering the cells. Since COVID-19 shows a lot of similarities to SARS, researchers have looked at the way to disrupt the process of the virus entering the cells using an enzime inhibitor and antibodies used against SARS.
The researchers showed that “camostat mesylate, an inhibitor of TMPRSS2, blocks SARS-CoV-2 infection of lung cells.”
How long could it take to develop a vaccine?
While researchers are rushing to develop a vaccine, we can’t expect any publicly available vaccine for at least 18 months.
UK’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said he doesn’t see a working vaccine being developed for the current outbreak, and that a year or 18 months is more likely.