First two volunteers injected with coronavirus vaccine as UK begins human trials

Two scientists have been injected with a hopeful coronavirus vaccine in the UK’s first human trials.

University of Oxford researchers administered the first dose on Thursday, while the other person was given a meningitis vaccine to be used for comparison. The Oxford Vaccine Group – who is ‘very optimistic’ it will work – hopes to repeat the process with six more volunteers on Saturday, with more than 1,000 being tested from Monday.

Microbiologist Elisa Granato and cancer researcher Edward O’Neill volunteered themselves to be the first two participants. They said they wanted to help in what could be a groundbreaking development in the fight against the pandemic.

Ms Granato, who took part in the trial on her 32nd birthday, said she was ‘excited’ to support the efforts by volunteering.

She told the BBC: ‘Since I don’t study viruses, I felt a bit useless these days, so I felt like this is a very easy way for me to support the cause.’

Mr O’Neill said: ‘It seems like the right thing to do to ensure that we can combat this disease and get over it a lot faster.’

Professor Sarah Gilbert, who is leading the trial team, said she is optimistic about the vaccine’s chances of success.

She said: ‘Personally, I’m very optimistic it’s going to work. Formally, we are testing it in an efficacy setting.

‘There’s absolutely no suggestion we’re going to start using this vaccine in a wider population before we’ve demonstrated that it actually works and stops getting people infected with coronavirus.’

Up to 1,102 participants will be recruited across multiple study sites in Oxford, Southampton, London and Bristol from next week.

Lydia Guthrie, who will take part week, told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One programme: ‘They’ve (the clinical team) been very clear with participants about the potential risk, and vaccine trials are very carefully regulated, so we’ve had to give explicit consent at every step of the way.

‘They’re really clear with us that as participants we can pull out at any time if we change our minds.’

She added that after receiving either the Covid-19 vaccine candidate or the meningitis jab, she would go about her normal life, keeping a diary about how she feels, or any symptoms.

John Jukes, from Witney, Oxfordshire, is expected to get his injection on Monday.

He told the Daily Mail: ‘I don’t see what I am doing as being heroic at all. I’m in a position to possibly be helpful to lots of people – that’s an opportunity to grab.’

A Covid-19 vaccine is considered the ultimate exit strategy by many experts, and scientists across the world are racing to develop one that can be produced at scale.

The Oxford team, which was given a more than £20 million cash boost this week, hopes to have at least a million doses of its candidate ready in September.

Imperial College London are also hoping to have a vaccine ready to use by the end of the year and has also received more backing from the government.

The researchers say a vaccine may be available for frontline workers and the most vulnerable by late winter, with clinical trials starting in June.

However, England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said yesterday that the chances of a vaccine being made available by the end of the year were ‘incredibly small’.

The government has said that until a vaccine is found, social distancing is the most effective way at slowing the spread of the virus and the country could face multiple lockdowns until there is a scientific breakthrough.

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