First participant in US coronavirus vaccine trial to be given dose

Human trial of vaccine created by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health to begin in Seattle

The first participant in a clinical trial for a vaccine against Covid-19 will receive an experimental dose on Monday, according to a US government official.

The trial, taking place at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle, will involve 45 young, healthy volunteers who will be given shots of the vaccine.

The official who disclosed plans for the first participant spoke on condition of anonymity to Associated Press. The move has not been publicly announced.

The World Health Organization is recommending that people take simple precautions to reduce exposure to and transmission of the coronavirus, for which there is no specific cure or vaccine.

The UN agency advises people to:

  • Frequently wash their hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or warm water and soap
  • Cover their mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when sneezing or coughing
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough
  • Seek early medical help if they have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and share their travel history with healthcare providers
  • Advice about face masks varies. Wearing them while out and about may offer some protection against both spreading and catching the virus via coughs and sneezes, but it is not a cast-iron guarantee of protection

Many countries are now enforcing or recommending curfews or lockdowns. Check with your local authorities for up-to-date information about the situation in your area. 

In the UK, NHS advice is that anyone with symptoms should stay at home for at least 7 days.

If you live with other people, they should stay at home for at least 14 days, to avoid spreading the infection outside the home.

The vaccine was developed by the company Moderna and the National Institutes of Health, which is also funding the trial. The goal is to examine whether the vaccine shows any concerning side-effects, setting the stage for larger trials this year that will assess its efficacy. It is expected to take a year to 18 months to fully validate any potential vaccine.

Participants cannot become infected from the shots because they do not contain the virus – or even an attenuated version of it in the way traditional vaccines such as MMR do.

Explainer for vaccine

Instead, the vaccine uses clever genetic engineering to harness the body’s cells to produce little pieces of virus that are then recognised by the immune system. The shot carries a specific stretch of messenger RNA that contains the instructions to build the receptor on the virus’ surface that allows the immune system to target it.

In theory, if this synthetic RNA is injected into a person, it should enter their cells and programme their inner machinery to churn out proteins that look exactly like the receptor on the surface of the virus. These floating receptors would then trigger the immune system without causing illness.

Even if initial safety tests go well, “you’re talking about a year to a year and a half” before any vaccine could be ready for widespread use, according to Anthony Fauci, the director of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Moderna is one of several teams funded by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi), which was set up three years ago after the Ebola epidemic, which killed 11,000 people.

Biotech firm Moderna developed the vaccine.
Biotech firm Moderna developed the vaccine. Photograph: Cj Gunther/EPA

Despite an Ebola vaccine (later shown to be almost 100% effective) having been in development for a decade, it was not deployed until more than a year into the epidemic.

Symptoms are defined by the NHS as either:

  • a high temperature - you feel hot to touch on your chest or back
  • a new continuous cough - this means you've started coughing repeatedly

NHS advice is that anyone with symptoms should stay at home for at least 7 days.

If you live with other people, they should stay at home for at least 14 days, to avoid spreading the infection outside the home.

After 14 days, anyone you live with who does not have symptoms can return to their normal routine. But, if anyone in your home gets symptoms, they should stay at home for 7 days from the day their symptoms start. Even if it means they're at home for longer than 14 days.

If you live with someone who is 70 or over, has a long-term condition, is pregnant or has a weakened immune system, try to find somewhere else for them to stay for 14 days.

If you have to stay at home together, try to keep away from each other as much as possible.

After 7 days, if you no longer have a high temperature you can return to your normal routine.

If you still have a high temperature, stay at home until your temperature returns to normal.

If you still have a cough after 7 days, but your temperature is normal, you do not need to continue staying at home. A cough can last for several weeks after the infection has gone.

Staying at home means you should:

  • not go to work, school or public areas
  • not use public transport or taxis
  • not have visitors, such as friends and family, in your home
  • not go out to buy food or collect medicine – order them by phone or online, or ask someone else to drop them off at your home

You can use your garden, if you have one. You can also leave the house to exercise – but stay at least 2 metres away from other people.

If you have symptoms of coronavirus, use the NHS 111 coronavirus service to find out what to do.

Source: NHS England on 23 March 2020

This time, things have moved far more quickly. Inovio Pharmaceuticals, also supported by Cepi, aims to begin safety tests of its vaccine candidate next month in a few dozen volunteers at the University of Pennsylvania and a testing centre in Kansas City, Missouri, followed by a similar study in China and South Korea.

The coalition is also funding at team at the University of Queensland, Australia, and CureVac, the German company that was reportedly offered “large sums of money” by Donald Trump for exclusive rights the vaccine.


Hannah Devlin Science correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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