Medical Officer of Health for the North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit (NBPSDHU), Dr. Jim Chirico, says that a COVID-19 vaccine won’t be available until the distant future despite promising early results published from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.
“One must be careful when interpreting the results. It’s still too early to tell if the vaccine can actually prevent or fight off the COVID-19 virus,” Dr. Chirico explains.
On July 20, the University of Oxford published a video on Twitter outlining the highlights of their vaccine research. The video touts that there were no negative responses to the potential vaccine and that it creates a strong immune response. Dr. Chirico agrees that those factors are encouraging.
“The study showed that the body’s immune system responded to the vaccine by producing white blood cells, or T-cells, and neutralizing antibodies. That’s the encouraging part because they are all capable of fighting off the COVID-19 infection,” Chirico said.
There are over 1,000 volunteers involved in the Oxford study. The results also showed that participants who received a second dose of the vaccine all showed a stronger immune response.
Dr. Chirico explains that those are just the first steps of many in the vaccine development process.
“The vaccine’s effectiveness has not been proven. There are still so many unanswered questions. It’s not known if the neutralizing antibody levels are high enough to fight off infection and for how long,” said Dr. Chirico, who adds that the vaccine’s effect on senior citizens has also not been studied.
The University of Oxford video was retweeted on Twitter over 33,000 times as of Tuesday afternoon. The school has received almost $1 billion (US) in UK government grants in addition to working with the global pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to develop and widely manufacture a COVID-19 vaccine. Dr. Chirico says that it’s important to consider where the information is coming from when it comes to news about a potential vaccine.
“You have to trust credible sources; sources that do not have any financial incentive to say one thing or another. Credible sources that deal with the science that they’re telling us… Most people don’t have the training to do systematic reviews, so you have to trust experts [and websites] that are credible because you really need to get the latest information,” said Chirico, adding that there are reliable sources on the NBPSDHU’s website. “Looking up one study online does not prove that it is indeed fact.”
The Oxford study did not say how long it will be until a vaccine is widely available. Dr. Chirico believes that it will take until 2021 at the earliest.