An Oxford University team working on a vaccine against COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, now believes that there's only a 50 percent chance they'll be successful, The Telegraph reports. The problem is that the disease seems to be disappearing faster than the team can find test subjects for their vaccine.
Professor Adrian Hill is leading the team that, since January, has been trying to develop a vaccine that would immunize the recipient against SARS-CoV-2, the official name of the virus that's causing a global pandemic.
Hill's team had been hopeful that the ZD1222 vaccine could be available for wide distribution by September. However, now they're up against a problem that they likely didn't consider: the disease seems to be disappearing on its own. That means that there may be fewer people who can be test subjects when the vaccine is deployed for human trials.
Of the 10,000 people Hill's team has recruited to test the vaccine in the coming weeks, by being given either the experimental medicine or a placebo, he expects that only 50 or fewer will actually contract an active infection from the virus. If fewer than 20 people catch it, then that would render all of the data from his team's work effectively useless.
Hill's Oxford colleague Sir John Bell said that new cases are popping up so rarely in London that there's no point in even testing the vaccine in that city. However, new cases are appearing in the northwest of England, forcing researchers to have to "chase" the pathogen they're trying to eliminate.
"The question is: can you chase the disease around the UK? Then there's the question about whether you chase it internationally," Bell said, via Business Insider.
Hill, having once predicted that there would be an 80 percent chance of a vaccine by September, now puts the number at 50 percent.
"We're in the bizarre position of wanting Covid to stay, at least for a little while. But cases are declining," he said.
Meanwhile, Hill's team is looking at testing outside of the U.K. It's a technique being echoed by teams in other countries working on vaccines: moving their human testing to areas where the virus is still going strong, rather than in the researchers' own countries. The Oxford team is currently looking at testing the vaccine in the U.S.
The coronavirus pandemic may be going away in the United States as well. As previously reported by The Inquisitr, a Sinagpore University study, based on modeling, predicts that the virus could be gone from the U.S. by September.