Sunday, 7 August, 2022
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Why we should not hype the hope for the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine

It's important to remember that at this early stage in the process, every piece of vaccine data is still just part of a thesis that needs confirmation.

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After months of hype, the world finally has human trial data from a front-running vaccine collaboration between the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca Plc. Spoiler alert, it’s good news.

The data, published in The Lancet Monday, showed that the vaccine produced an encouraging immune response. Just as crucially, perhaps, no significant safety issues emerged. Investors took these developments as a cue to bid up AstraZeneca shares as they did with Moderna Inc.’s stock last week on its positive vaccine news. And there are indeed elements of the Oxford-Astra shot’s profile that may make it especially promising. But it’s important to remember that this early stage in the process, every piece of vaccine data is still just part of a thesis that needs confirmation.

The piece of data garnering the most attention is the vaccine’s “dual immune responses” — its ability to produce both an antibody and T-cell response in volunteers. There is some evidence that antibodies may decline over time in recovered Covid patients and that T-cells — a type of immune cell that can remember and hunt viruses — may be key to durable protection. This theory is one possible explanation for the lack, so far at least, of many reports of reinfection even as antibodies have declined.

While evidence of a T-cell response is undoubtedly better than the alternative — new data from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE’s vaccine collaboration and CanSino Biologics Inc. Monday also produced such data — there are still tremendous gaps in knowledge. It’s unclear, for example, what exactly declining antibody levels might mean. Individuals may still be primed to generate new antibodies even after measurable levels fall.

On the T-cell side, scientists know little about the longevity and protective abilities of natural responses and even less about what vaccine developers should be measuring. Immune responses measured in the lab don’t always correlate to real-world protection, a risk that’s especially acute for rapidly developed vaccines against a novel virus.

There isn’t enough data to declare one vaccine effort firmly ahead of others. We know too little, and cross-trial comparisons are fraught; different research groups measure different things in different ways. The only answer to these questions will come from big real-world confirmatory trials, something I’ve said many times and will keep repeating until the data arrives.

The same uncertainty holds for safety data. This vaccine and others have been tested in mostly young, healthy, and undiverse groups so far. Safety and efficacy in a broader population, including older adults and people with health issues, will be crucial in determining how useful they are.

With that cautionary note, there is some good news. The shot is already in large-scale trials in the U.K., South Africa, and Brazil that could generate more evidence in the next few months even as some rivals are still designing studies. It’s not clear exactly when this data will arrive; the trial in the U.K. is the largest and started in May, late in the country’s lockdown as infections were on the decline. Data may be slow to accrue. The trials in Brazil and South Africa don’t have that problem, though both smaller efforts started later.

It’s unclear whether those three groups add up to a data package that will meet approval standards in the U.S. or Europe, which is likely why AstraZeneca plans a further large study in the U.S. starting in August. However, the need is such that the vaccine could see limited early use if the results are very compelling. At the very least, it would provide more secure grounds for optimism and scaling up manufacturing capacity while waiting for more information.

It’s tempting to leap on every piece of vaccine news as a firm step forward or the clincher for a preferred candidate. At this stage, excesses of both optimism and odds-making can get both investors and policymakers in trouble. – Bloomberg

Also read: Fingerprick antibody test with ‘98.6% accuracy’ could see mass rollout in UK by year-end


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  1. Ummm….I believe the author of this article is referring to stock evaluations. As in, getting all excited at every piece of news regarding covid and rushing out to buy said pharmaceutical stock. (Like Moderna last week). I don’t believe he means hope in the broader sense of life like most here seem to be interpreting…

  2. We need to support & encourage the large scientific community working hard to find a cure, vaccine which is the need of the hour. Let pessimists jump off the cliff . God will protect humanity he won’t destroy what he created !

  3. Its you the media said lets hope. Its the media again who said lets not hope. Its the media who said theres a ‘new virus’. Its the media who said millions will die by the day. Its the media who said RNA ‘spreads’ by touch, droplets, air, door knob, cabs, house maids, goods delivered, milk, news paper and what not – I am wondering why did the media leave house flies, fireflies and mosquitoes? People anyway knew the reality of how ‘pandemics’ are created and why!!

  4. With such misleading articles you claim to value good, intelligent and objective journalism and ask for support!! There is a reason why advertising markets are broken because they also understood with such ridiculous and incompetent actions, you will hardly be able to manage the traffic flow… Good Luck!!

  5. Why soo least they are trying to find a cure instead of sitting on a couch like you and criticising other’s work.. appreciate their effort and stop spreading negativity….I think the day is not far when you would also be seen taking this think positive and support them..

  6. Do we really have to worry too much … As per the data displayed in Social media, many people are infected with this virus n recovred too. Not everyone infected is dead. Improve lifestyle, eating habits n trust in your magical body. It knows how to create antibodies for self defense.
    Stress affect immunity
    Eat fresh n all farm fresh food
    Avoid processed food
    Sleep well
    Exercise well
    Yoga n Pranayam

    Adopt this lifestyle n just Enjoy everything in life

  7. I know how difficult it is to develop a vaccine in such a urgency, hurry and worry environment of corona fears. Our PM calls for hackathon competition(? ) as if he equate bio virus with software virus and speaks to youngsters? Scientists aroud the world have taken 4 decades of research to develop a vaccine against HIV and still we are not having any success. Today situation is much better we can hope and keep trying that’s all just hope for the best while be prepared to accept reality.

  8. We, the well educated very well know that unless third human trial of Covid vaccine is validated, hope overrides the worse people all over the world are experiencing. Sometimes differential claims and uncertainty reported or telecasted on media pushes hope backward. Let us all believe ‘ hope sustains life’ .. and pray..sooner the better it is. We should not be lead by misinformations about Covid vaccine. Our scientists will succeed in their mission..!

  9. I firmly believe in the efforts put in by scientists all over the world. The news media just expressed their knowledge of understanding about the vaccine. With the advent of new technology in the diagnostic sector we may not rule out if a vaccine come into usage for public by the Christmas time.

    M. Ramesh

  10. The world runs on hope and not everything should be based on historical evidence and stock market prices. Articles like this spread negativity and snatch away the small hope that people have now by means of which people are trying to find some semblance of happiness amidst this gloom now.

    The author should keep his expert opinions to himself. He can wait for the data and be pessimistic by himself.

    • Very correct…People are committing suicide in desperation..These types of negative comments will lead to loss of all hopes.

    • No one asked you to read the article. Why don’t you keep your opinions to yourself as you are preaching the author. If hope or despair is so easily influenced then stop reading the news. Don’t assume people do not want objective analysis. I don’t see you questioning the “15th August vaccine” deadline being trumped around by ICMR and the govt. It’s silly and misleading to start touting deadlines on a vaccine when we do not even understand the virus completely. Well to your comment “The world runs on hope and not everything should be based on historical evidence and stock market prices “, will you take any medicine based on hope? Maybe if in a life threatening situation people agree to experimental medicine but let’s say for fever, will you rely on trusty paracetamol or some medicine “based on hope”. And if so, why waste time on trials, better to just give the vaccine to people like you. Being realistic and pragmatic is now being called pessimistic.

  11. These naysayers should stop yapping. First they said you can never get a vaccine. Then they said it will take 40 years. Now they proclaim that the vaccines will not work. The trouble is that these “journalists”, probably from”financial backgrounds” (bean counters, as some would say), are severely knowledge challenged.

    These smartasses are blind to reality, and refuse to understand why and how we have this rapid pace of development — collaboration, advancements in the science of molecular biology, speedy approvals, urgency, financial incentive (usually vaccines are not profitable, and thereby hangs a tale), and last but not the least, the quick publication of the genetic structure by the Chinese.

  12. Let us hope for the best . We have already prepared for the worse, if not worst. Man is indomitable in his fight against odds but
    man must respect natural might.

  13. What lends success to a vaccine is a phase III trial, conforming to the prescribed standards. However, even in phase III, it is about ‘central tendencies’ in a large heterogeneous population, it may not necessarily be true at the level of the individual. That confirmation will come through in phase IV. What is significant in the case of Oxford vaccine, is the ‘internal validation’ of the science they put to use.

  14. author just keeps saying stuff everyone knows. Nobody has written off Covid virus yet. there’s nothing wrong in buiding optimism one step at a time as and when there’s a positive outcome in drug research.

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