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expert reaction to Times interview about vaccines with Prof Sarah Gilbert

Prof Sarah Gilbert from the University of Oxford was interviewed by The Times about progress on a vaccine for COVID-19.


Prof Ian Jones, Professor of Virology, University of Reading, said:

“The Vaccitech approach, which uses a harmless chimpanzee virus to carry the fragment of SARS-CoV-2 that is required for immunity, has been extensively tested in other situations so there is indeed a good chance it will work as designed. More challenging however will be working out if the amount given is sufficient to give full protection and if it needs one dose or two. Two doses will mean only half the number can be vaccinated with the same batch of vaccine. Any final roll-out will almost certainly need a level of manufacturing the country does not readily have, so transfer to, and liaison with, an external manufacturer may also need to be tackled. But the roadmap is clear, let’s hope they get there.”


Dr Colin Butter, Associate Professor at the University of Lincoln, said:

“Professor Gilbert’s team at Oxford’s Jenner Institute have made a recombinant vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 virus by taking a virus that is entirely harmless to humans, the Chimp Adenovirus designated ChAdOx1, and inserting into it the spike protein gene from the coronavirus. 

“The group has a long history of success in this area, including the production of a promising vaccine against a related virus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).  On the basis of this prior experience it would be reasonable to assume that the vaccine would induce antibody and cellular immune responses, both of which may be important in controlling the virus in an individual.  However, vaccinology is a complicated science where good fortune also plays a part: whilst a successful outcome is predicted it is not absolutely guaranteed.  The usual series of events in vaccine testing and production are being run in parallel, with animal trials already underway at The Pirbright Institute, Public Health England and Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).  Human efficacy trials are to start very shortly.

“Research Councils UK have also funded work by Dr Sandy Douglas at Oxford to investigate rapid scaling up of vaccine production.   The commitment by government to ensure that the vaccine is being produced ahead of the final results of clinical trials will be critical to an early roll out of the vaccine in the UK.  

“If all goes well Professor Gilbert is confident that her group can produce a working vaccine, perhaps sooner rather than later.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be enough doses for everyone to be vaccinated immediately but with luck and commitment this may be possible earlier than the often quoted 18-month-plus timetable.”


Prof David Salisbury FMedSci, Associate Fellow of the Centre on Global Health Security at the Royal Institute for International Affairs, Chatham House, and Chair of the WHO Global Commission for Certification of Polio Eradication, said:

“Exciting news that a vaccine might be ready by September. But it is not just the availability of the first dose that we need to focus on. We need to know by when there will be sufficient doses to protect all of the at-risk population, probably with two doses; and that means industrial scale manufacturing that governments do not have. It is also worth remembering that too often the bottle necks for vaccine production are at the last stages – batch testing, freeze drying, filling and finishing: again, capacities that governments do not have”.


Prof Brendan Wren, Professor of Microbial Pathogenesis, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said:

“The Oxford vaccine group are among the most advanced viral vaccine groups in the world and have been working on vaccine biopreparedness for several years. This means that they can test and evaluate Covid-19 vaccine candidates rapidly (even in human volunteers).

“A strong vaccine candidate available by September would not be surprising. The group have unique viral vector delivery and expression systems combined with diverse expertise from basic virology to vaccine production scale-up. The UK has no current vaccine manufacture and may be at the back of the queue if we depend on other countries that have manufacturing capacity (e.g. Germany, Belgium and France). Desperate times require desperate measures, so upscaling and manufacture would be justified before data is fully known. Even if the vaccine didn’t prove effective, this would be a useful trial run for the manufacture of alternative Covid-19 vaccines and vaccines against other viral and bacterial diseases.”


All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:


Declared interests

None received.

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