129: Vaccine Update

The thing we all need for this madness to go back to normal, the vaccine, is making good process. Countries are racing other countries. The heat is on. This seems like the space race from the 60’s - except instead of flying into the next frontier we’re all trying to get back to the old routine. Quite a reversal.

There are 23 coronavirus vaccines in the later stages and all are moving as fast as they can to get to the finish line. This week new there was positive news in two clinical trial data from two vaccines (Oxford University and AstraZeneca in the U.K. and  CanSino Biologics in China).

Apparently the UK vaccine is in the lead. Because they were already in the process of building a MERS vaccine, they had a head start and now have leapfrogged all candidates and are in final stages.

At the end of April, crunching a process that normally takes about five years into less than four months, [they UK team] started a human trial on 1,100 people. When they testified before a parliamentary committee in early July, one member compared her effort to going into a shed and coming out with a jet engine.
- Businessweek profile of the UK team

In fact, the UK team is already planning for distribution and have struct a deal with a manufacturer to be able to generate 2 billion doses. They estimate that they’ll know if their vaccine works by September and currently give it an 80% chance of being effective.

I’ve been tracking the progress but what I didn’t realize is that this latest round of testing are tests primarily against safety and NOT for effectiveness (i.e. generating robust immune responses to this virus). For example, UK researchers gave their vaccine to 543 people but only tested 35 for "neutralizing antibodies” as they were looking primarily at safety.

"It is good and hopeful news indeed, but we'll only know when the large trials are done"
Robert Califf, former FDA commissioner

We’re moving past the safety part, so now is when the rubber hits the road. New trials will tell us whether we have something that actually triggers immune systems to respond to the virus and there are 23 vaccines that have a shot at bringing the world back to normal. The UK team, for instance, is doing multiple trials in different parts of the world to see if different strains have different effects. The estimates are that sometime in the next 6 months one of the companies will be successful.

Come on science nerds, it’s go time, let’s do it!

Other Stuff

If you wonder what people are doing when stuck at home, this is what I like to think they are up to:

An amateur German soccer league team put on a full exhibition match with shopping carts to show how soccer could be played safely while maintaining social distance. Seriously. Game highlights 

For those of you who weren’t reading my newsletter from the beginning, in Day 11 there was a fantastic story about Triscuits:

The update today is that Triscuits finally agreed with his theory and sent him a congratulatory letter and some crackers.

I would love to have this in my backyard. Well done sir:

Uh, what?

Corona Skeptics

Nearly one in three don't believe the virus' death toll is as high as the official count, despite surging new infections and hospitalizations. Uff. Here I was believing that it’s all under-counted. If we can’t agreed what is real, it’ll be harder to beat this thing.


The US went over 1000 deaths in one day for the first time since May. On Tuesday we also reported 63,000 new cases and 59,000 hospitalizations — the third-highest total number of hospitalizations since we started counting.

In Marin, the number of cases continues to rise, and California in general is spiking:

I don’t know how it’s happening but the cases still happen. We’re now averaging over 60 new cases a day up from 20 a month ago and 10 two months ago.

That’s it everyone. Have a great Wed.

Only 64 more days to go