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The Covid buster: Oxford vaccine trains body to fight off virus

THE battle to stop Covid-19 has taken a major step forward after an Oxford university team announced that trials of a vaccine which trains the body to fight off the virus appear to be a success.

The scientists revealed they found antibodies in more than 90 per cent of those given the Covid-busting jab.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said it was ‘very encouraging news’. But Boris Johnson — on a visit to a primary school in Kent to announce a boost to education funding — warned there are ‘no guarantees’, adding: ‘We can’t count on it riding over the hill like the cavalry.’

News of the potential breakthrough came as scientists announced that interferon beta, a drug currently used for treating multiple sclerosis sufferers, reduces the chances of infected people becoming seriously ill by 79 per cent. The University of Oxford researchers, who are developing their vaccine from a virus found in chimpanzees, found that antibodies lock on to cells to prevent them becoming infected. They also discovered a ‘marked increase’ in T cells — which attack the virus after it has established itself in the body.

‘There is still much work to be done but these early results hold promise,’ said team leader Prof Sarah Gilbert.

Testing times: PM at a school in Kent PICTURES: AP/PA

Kate Bingham, of Britain’s Vaccine Task Force, warned it would be ‘optimistic’ to expect vaccinations this year. But that hasn’t stopped the government from pre-ordering 100million doses of the vaccine. Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, said: ‘This is an important scientific breakthrough. The results are extremely encouraging and I feel very optimistic about this potential vaccine.’

Prof Francois Balloux, of University College London, added: ‘If confirmed, this would represent by far the biggest breakthrough in Covid treatment to date.’

Meanwhile, the benefits of interferon for reducing the effects of coronavirus were revealed by scientists at Southampton University, as the official death toll rose another 11 to 45,312.

Drugs firm Synairgen said it would have a ‘few hundred thousand doses’ of SNG001 available every month by the winter. ‘The results confirm that interferon beta, a widely known drug, has huge potential to restore the lungs’ immune response, enhance protection, accelerate recovery and counter the impact of the virus,’ said Prof Tom Wilkinson. ‘We are delighted.’

The government also announced it had pre-ordered 90million doses of two potential vaccines from BioNTech-Pfizer and Valneva.