The story of how this vaccine was designed, developed and licensed at breathtaking speed — in under a year — by the labs of Oxford University has become scientific legend.
It is estimated to have saved more lives than any other Covid vaccine in 2021 — 6.3 million globally — according to research published last summer by the life-science data firm Airfinity, based on information from Imperial College London.
And recently the same labs, on an unremarkable modern campus in a suburb of Oxford, have again been in the spotlight for rapidly developing another crucial vaccine — this time against a strain of the Ebola virus that causes a deadly haemorrhagic fever and proves fatal in about 50 per cent of cases.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) announced late last November that the Oxford Ebola vaccine, ChAdOx1 biEBOV, was one of three to be shortlisted for trials taking place in Uganda. It aims to combat the Sudanese strain that has so far killed 55 people, with 142 confirmed cases across the country.
Although vaccines exist to protect against other strains of Ebola (principally the dominant Zaire strain), the Oxford vaccine is the only one that is bivalent — able to protect against two viral strains.
That a team of fewer than 100 scientists from the Jenner Institute and the Oxford Vaccine Group, both based at Oxford University, has produced two milestone scientific achievements in such a brief timespan is remarkable.
But can such an effort be replicated to save us from future pandemics? With one leading UK expert telling Good Health that future outbreaks should be regarded as a threat to our country’s security and not ‘just’ a health problem, there are fears that the next time a virus strikes on a global scale, we may not be as well placed to react because of a lack of funding and government planning, squandering the hard-gained experience of the Covid pandemic.