Vaccines for coronavirus (COVID-19)

Researchers and doctors are working at an extraordinary pace on a vaccine against coronavirus. Older people and those with dementia should be among the first to get any new vaccine. Our information here gives a summary of progress.

What is a vaccine?

We all have our own natural protection – the immune system – that defends our bodies from viruses, bacteria and other infectious causes of disease.

Vaccines help to ‘train’ our immune systems to fight these bugs so that we can prevent them from multiplying and making us ill. Most vaccines contain dead or weakened versions of the virus or bacterium, or sometimes just small pieces of these. 

The vaccine helps our immune system learn how to protect the body from these bugs without the risk of us getting the disease. This means that, if we later come across the real virus or bacterium, the body recognises it and is primed to get rid of the bug before it can make us ill.

Where are we with developing a coronavirus vaccine? 

Currently there is no vaccine that will protect anyone from coronavirus. But there is a huge global effort and researchers are making progress every day. There are over 100 coronavirus vaccines being developed around the world. Many are still being worked on in the lab, but a few are now being tested in people. 

Several vaccines are currently in the later stages of trials, developed by academics and vaccine companies. They are in the UK, Australia, USA and China. 

The University of Oxford are leading research into one of the most promising vaccines. A trial of over 1,000 adults showed there were no unexpected major side-effects and any minor side-effects were easily managed. The trial also found that the vaccine induced a strong immune response, which is very good news.

But the most important step is yet to come. The Oxford research team will now carry out larger trials in humans to understand if the vaccine can protect people from coronavirus.

Before a vaccine can be made available to the public it will need to be proven to be safe and to cause a good immune response. The vaccine will ideally prevent people from getting any symptoms from coronavirus, or at least make any symptoms of COVID-19 disease less severe – and so easier to treat.

Any vaccine must be approved by regulators. Industry will then need to be able to produce and deliver the vaccine on an enormous scale.

How effective will a coronavirus vaccine be?

At this stage we don’t know how effective a coronavirus vaccine might be, how long its effects might last or how often it might need to be given.

It is possible a vaccine may prevent people from getting coronavirus, but many experts believe it is more likely to reduce the severity of COVID-19 symptoms. This is similar to the normal flu (influenza) vaccination that is developed each year. 

We need results of trials in a wide range of different people to know how well a vaccine will work in the real world. 

How long will it be before we have a vaccine for coronavirus?

Under normal circumstances it takes several years to develop a new vaccine. But these are far from normal times. 

Researchers are hopeful that we can develop a safe and effective coronavirus vaccine much sooner. Governments, the research community and commercial research organisations are working at a pace we haven’t seen before to develop a safe and effective vaccine as fast as possible. 

Some people believe a vaccine may be available from mid-2021, only 18 months after the new coronavirus emerged. Others are less confident. This would be a huge scientific achievement, but success is not guaranteed and we are long way off yet. 

What would a coronavirus vaccine mean for people with dementia?

People with dementia have been hit by a devastating wave of the virus, representing a quarter of all deaths involving COVID-19 in the UK.

In June 2020, the government’s Joint Committee for Vaccination and Immunisation published intermittent guidance on who should be first in line to get a vaccine, based on what we currently know.

This may change with new evidence, but at this stage the following groups will get a coronavirus vaccine before others:

  • frontline health and social care workers 
  • people with an increased risk of serious disease and death from COVID-19. This group includes people:
    • aged over 50
    • with underlying conditions, including heart disease, lung disease, obesity and dementia.

If this guidance remains, people with dementia and many carers in middle age or older will be among the first to get a vaccine. 

We are also campaigning for all carers of people with dementia to be given ‘key worker’ status so that they can get the vaccine too if it becomes available.  

What can I do to help with the coronavirus vaccine trials?

The government have set up a register where you can sign up to be considered to take part in one of the UK vaccine trials, currently run out of Oxford or London.

Last updated 29.07.20

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