Doubts Over Oxford COVID-19 Vaccine After Animals Tested Catch Virus

Doubts have been raised over a much-lauded Oxford University COVID-19 vaccine which experts say could fail to prevent individuals catching the virus, after trial results emerged.

The government has promised to invest £20 million ($24m) to support teams at Oxford University engaged in the global race to find a vaccine.

However, following the publication of detailed trial results last week, it was found that the vaccine was unable to prevent monkeys from catching the COVID-19 virus.

This has led to experts questioning the effectiveness of the jab, should it be approved for wider use among the population, and in particular about whether it will be able to prevent the spread of the virus between affected individuals.

Dr. William Haseltine, a former Harvard Medical School professor who had a pivotal role in the development of early HIV/Aids treatments, said: "All of the vaccinated monkeys treated with the Oxford vaccine became infected when challenged, as judged by recovery of virus genomic RNA from nasal secretions."

He wrote in an article on Forbes: "There was no difference in the amount of viral RNA detected from this site in the vaccinated monkeys as compared to the unvaccinated animals. Which is to say, all vaccinated animals were infected."

The vaccine, which had been dubbed as a "front runner", was trialed in rhesus macaque monkeys.

The vaccine, catchily titled ChAdOx1, was given to six monkeys, exposing them to COVID-19.

A control group of three non-vaccinated monkeys was also infected. Both the immunized and non-immunized monkeys were then monitored for seven days for signs of developing COVID-19.

Oxford COVID-19 vaccine
The vaccine, which had been dubbed as a "front runner", was trialed in rhesus macaque monkeys. Getty

Dr. Haseltine said: "It is crystal clear that the vaccine did not provide sterilizing immunity to the virus challenge, the gold standard for any vaccine. It may provide partial protection."

Although all of the monkeys were found to have been infected with the virus, none suffered from pneumonia, which suggests the vaccine could help fight the severity of COVID-19, which may give optimism to some.

Dr. Penny Ward, a visiting professor in pharmaceutical medicine at King's College London, said: "It is helpful to see that monkeys vaccinated with this SARS-CoV-2 vaccine did not have any evidence of enhanced lung pathology and that, despite some evidence of upper respiratory tract infection by SARS COV2 after high viral load virus challenge, monkeys given the vaccine did not have any evidence of pneumonia."