Oxford creates a vaccine to cure the world

Professor Sarah Gilbert: Bringing up triplets trained her to work on little sleep. © John Lawrence

Is this going to be the universal vaccine – not just for the wealthy? The Oxford team has created a Covid-19 jab which seems to be highly effective, easy to use and widely affordable.

On 31 December, Sarah Gilbert heard reports of an outbreak in China.

“We'd been planning for Disease X,” says the professor of vaccinology.

She and her team at Oxford’s Jenner Institute had a strategy to produce a vaccine in the shortest possible time – yesterday it was vindicated.

Trials showed that two doses of her vacine was 90% effective against Covid-19.

The vaccine mimics coronavirus and trains the body to react if the recipient contracts it.

The Oxford developed it quickly because they created a vaccine against MERS on the same principles. They took a virus which causes the common cold in chimpanzees, and altered its genetic code so that it did not reproduce in humans. It could then be modified to deal with any disease.

For Covid-19, the team added the genetic sequence of the “spike protein”. The vaccine trained the immune system to attack that spike.

The team worked day and night to develop their new vaccine. They started trials in April.

Normally testing takes years but the vaccine has been tested on 24,000 people. None have developed a severe case of Covid-19.

Two other vaccines have been announced. They are as much as 95% effective – but expensive.

The Oxford vaccine could be a "vaccine for the world". It could cost as little as £3 a dose.

Is this the vaccine for the world?

A stab at a jab

Yes. It is effective, affordable and easy to deliver. AstraZeneca has taken orders for 3 billion doses and can produce and distribute it globally. It has been given geographically and ethnically diverse trials.

Maybe. There are many vaccines in development that could be more effective and cheaper. Russia’s vaccine has not completed trials, but results suggest it is 92% effective. Two Chinese vaccines are in the final testing phase, as is one by the pharmaceutical company Janssen.

You Decide

  1. Should there be a limit on how much private companies are allowed to charge for life-saving medical products?


  1. Imagine that you are a member of the Oxford team. Write a diary entry for the day on which you learnt that the vaccine had passed its latest trial.

Some People Say...

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”

Marie Curie (1867 - 1934), Polish scientist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that the vaccine is hugely important for the standing of Oxford University and Britain. Oxford has been accused of producing an over-influential elite – but the vaccine’s development shows that supporting an elite can benefit everybody. Britain faces a loss of overseas influence with its departure from the EU and government plans to cut its foreign aid budget, but the vaccine could go a long way towards compensating for that.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate is around how long-lasting the vaccine will prove. Experts doubt that Covid-19 will be eradicated entirely, and it may be necessary to vaccinate people every year. The virus might also mutate into a form the vaccine is ineffective against. Sarah Gilbert, however, argues that this is unlikely, since mutations in coronaviruses arise at a comparatively low rate, and the Oxford vaccine appears to work on all the mutations found so far.

Word Watch

The study of vaccines. The name derives from the Latin word for cow.
The science of vaccination was pioneered by Edward Jenner (1749- 1783), an English doctor, who discovered that milkmaids who contracted a mild disease called cowpox were immune from the severer one of smallpox.
Short for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. Another type of coronavirus, it is also known as camel flu.

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