Making Sense of the Latest Coronavirus Vaccine News

A status update on five vaccines under investigation

Emily Mullin
Medium Coronavirus Blog
4 min readMay 22, 2020

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Credit: Douglas Sacha / Getty Images

There are more than 100 vaccines in development for Covid-19, and with any luck, we could have one that works by next year. At least, that’s the goal of Operation Warp Speed, the bold government plan announced by the Trump administration on May 15 to make an effective vaccine available to Americans by January 2021.

Recently, a handful of groups have announced early-stage results for their experimental vaccines. Though encouraging, they still have a lot to prove. Here’s what you need to know about these vaccine candidates.

Moderna

Massachusetts-based Moderna was the first U.S. company to begin a human clinical trial of its Covid-19 vaccine in mid-March. This week, the company provided the first glimpse of the vaccine’s effects in people but was short on details. In 45 participants aged 18 to 55, Moderna said its vaccine produced antibodies, proteins made by the immune system.

In a press release, the company said that eight of those people developed neutralizing antibodies — the specific kind of antibodies that are believed to be needed to prevent infection. We don’t know yet about the other 37 people. STAT’s Helen Branswell points out that testing for neutralizing antibodies takes a lot longer than other antibody tests, so Moderna might not have results yet for the other participants. We also don’t know how good the vaccine is at preventing infection in someone who is exposed to the disease.

Moderna’s vaccine is considered a genetic vaccine. It uses a small piece of RNA that tells cells to make a harmless version of a key protein found on the SARS-CoV-2 virus. That RNA is then packaged into nanoparticles. So far, no vaccines that use RNA technology have been licensed for use.

University of Oxford

A vaccine developed by researchers at the University of Oxford in the U.K. protected six monkeys from pneumonia caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, according to results posted May 13 to an online preprint server. The findings are not yet peer-reviewed. Based on that data, Oxford researchers began an initial clinical trial on April 23 to test the vaccine in healthy…

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Emily Mullin
Medium Coronavirus Blog

Former staff writer at Medium, where I covered biotech, genetics, and Covid-19 for OneZero, Future Human, Elemental, and the Coronavirus Blog.