UK COVID-19 Update: New Vaccine Trial Starts

Peter Russell

June 25, 2020

These are the UK coronavirus stories you need to know about today.

Antibody Testing Concerns

The rollout of COVID-19 antibody testing in England was called into question by a group of 14 clinical academics and physicians who said the programme had not been adequately assessed.

In a letter to The BMJ, they took issue with the Government's claim that testing could provide 'immune passports' to allow people, including healthcare workers, to return to work.

They said that people with a positive antibody test "should still consider themselves at risk" and that there was "no benefit to healthcare organisations or to others in knowing the status of employees at present".

The group said that antibody testing should be confined to research purposes to avoid overstretching NHS resources.

Public Health England said it was confident that its assessment of tests was reliable. A spokesperson said: "Our evaluation work is ongoing and as more tests become available, we will continue to refine our approach".

Vaccine Trial Begins in Humans

A 39 year old woman has become the first healthy volunteer to receive a candidate coronavirus vaccine developed by researchers at Imperial College London.

The trials are the first test of a new self-amplifying RNA (saRNA) technology.

Unlike many traditional vaccines based on a weakened or modified form of a virus, the ICL vaccine uses synthetic strands of genetic code (RNA) based on the virus's genetic material.

The vaccine will instruct the body's cells to make a protein found on the outside of the virus to train the immune system to respond to the coronavirus.

The volunteer, Kathy, received a first dose of the vaccine, with a second booster dose to follow within four weeks.

She was the first of an initial set of 15 healthy volunteers to receive a low dose to assess safety and to find the optimal dosage.

Over the coming weeks, 300 healthy participants are expected to receive two doses of the vaccine.

Dr Katrina Pollock, chief investigator of the study, said: "We have reached a significant milestone in this ground-breaking study with the first dose of a self-amplifying RNA vaccine delivered safely.

"We are now poised to test the vaccine in the dose evaluation phase before moving forward to evaluating it in larger numbers."

The ICL team said the artificial nature of their vaccine, which does not depend on 'growing' viruses, opens the door for rapid and large scale development.

"It means that we can make the equivalent of 2 million doses in the volume of a litre," Prof Robin Shattock, the research lead, told BBC News.

ICL said it had formed a new social enterprise VacEquity Global Health (VGH), in partnership with Morningside Ventures, to rapidly develop vaccines and distribute them as widely as possible in the UK and overseas.  

ICL received £22.5 million of Government funding in April to support Phase II clinical trials of its vaccine, and to begin work on Phase III trials.

Human trials of a vaccine developed by the University of Oxford's Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group clinical teams have already begun human trials.

Daily Deaths and Data

Another 149 UK COVID-19 deaths were announced today, taking the total to 43,230.

As of 9am on the 25th June, there had been 8,710,292 tests, with 167,023 tests carried out yesterday, the Department of Health and Social Care said.

Preparations for a Second Wave

The Government was urged to prepare for the "real risk" to the UK of a second wave of COVID-19.

In an open letter, published in The BMJ, ministers were warned that urgent action would be needed to prevent further loss of life.

The presidents of the Royal Colleges of Surgeons, Nursing, Physicians, and GPs all signed the letter.

The authors said they backed calls for an inquiry into handling of the pandemic through an interim inquiry that should report initial findings by August this year, with all work completed by October.

They said it should be "focused on evaluating national preparedness in the lead up to winter, with the aim of saving lives".

The signatories urged rapid attention to:

  • Governance, including parliamentary scrutiny and involvement of regional and local structures and leaders

  • Procurement of goods and services

  • Coordination of existing structures, in a way designed to optimise the establishment of effective public health and communicable disease control infrastructure, the resilience of the NHS as a whole, and the shielding of vulnerable individuals and communities

  • The disproportionate burden on black, Asian, and minority ethnic individuals and communities

  • International collaboration, especially to mitigate any new difficulties in pandemic management due to Brexit

Repeat Testing in Care Homes

Around 10,000 residents and staff in care homes in England will be offered repeat testing as part of a new government study into coronavirus, the Department of Health and Social Care announced.

It said the results would improve understanding of the spread of COVID-19 in those settings.

The study, involving more than 100 care homes, will involve repeat antibody tests for staff and residents.

Helen Whately, Minister for Care, said: "We know care homes are on the frontline of our fight against coronavirus, with the virus affecting older people more acutely than the general population.

"Not only will this study provide important reassurance to thousands of residents and staff, it will also build our understanding of the rate of infection in care homes and add to our knowledge about the risk factors that mean the virus can affect individuals differently."

Pub Opening Rules

The Government announced plans to allow more pubs, restaurants, and cafes in England to be able to serve customers outdoors.

It said pubs and restaurants would be able to use car parks and terraces as dining and drinking areas, using their existing seating licenses.

Also, temporary changes to licensing laws would allow many more licensed premises to permit sales of alcohol for consumption off the premises.

Alok Sharma, the Business Secretary, said: "Our pubs, restaurants, and cafes are the lifeblood of high streets and town centres across the country and we are doing all we can to ensure they can bounce back as quickly and safely as possible."

Latest from Scotland

Scotland recorded an additional 5 positive cases of COVID-19 yesterday, taking the country's total to 18,196.

A total of 826 patients were currently in hospital with the virus either confirmed or suspected.  54 fewer than the previous day, Nicola Surgeon, Scotland's First Minister said in her regular briefing today.

Scotland has announced a loosening of lockdown measures in the coming days and weeks.

However, Ms Sturgeon said it would be a "mistake" to "drop our guard and simply go back to life as it was before we were dealing with this".

See more global coronavirus updates in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.


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