Thursday brought further good news from the global effort to produce a safe and effective vaccine against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
A report published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet says that a potential vaccine developed by British pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca in collaboration with the University of Oxford was safe and produced a strong immune response in both younger and older participants.
The two-dose vaccine was given to 560 healthy adult volunteers in a second-stage clinical trial, including 240 volunteers 70 years of age and older. Dr. Maheshi Ramasamy, a University of Oxford researcher and co-author of the study, described the antibody and T-cell responses in the older volunteers as “robust.”
COVID-19 poses the greatest risk for older adults and people with preexisting health conditions. “We hope that this means our vaccine will help protect some of the most vulnerable people in society,” Ramasamy said, but he noted that further research still needs to be conducted. The vaccine is currently undergoing final late-stage global clinical trials to prove its ultimate safety and efficacy.
The data from the Oxford-AstraZeneca Phase 2 trial comes as two U.S.-based pharmaceutical companies report their COVID-19 vaccines are more than 90% effective against the virus. Pfizer announced Wednesday that it will seek emergency approval for the vaccine it has developed in collaboration with Germany’s BioNTech. Moderna announced earlier this week that its vaccine is nearly 95% effective after an interim analysis of its late-stage study.
The apparent progress toward a COVID-19 vaccine comes as many nations reimpose strict restrictions or lockdowns to fight a new wave of the virus.
Authorities in Tokyo announced Thursday it has raised its coronavirus alert level to its highest mark on a four-level scale after reporting a record-high 534 new COVID-19 cases. The number of nationwide cases also surpassed 2,000 cases on Wednesday, another single-day record.
The Japanese government imposed a nationwide state of emergency in April, in the early days of the pandemic, but was not empowered to impose a mandatory quarantine under its constitution, which weighs heavily in favor of civil liberties.
Russia has also reached a grim milestone, surpassing 2 million total coronavirus cases on Thursday after reporting 23,610 new cases over a 24-hour period, including 463 deaths. Of the more than 56.3 million total worldwide cases, Russia is in fourth place behind the United States, India, Brazil and France.