The COVID-19 vaccine candidate developed by the Oxford University consortium could be ready by autumn, according to the lead scientist of the project.

Professor Sarah Gilbert’s team are at the final stage of trials on humans, having involved 8,000 volunteers so far.

Because of the low transmission rates in the UK, the jab is being trialled in Brazil and South Africa, while the university aims at starting a large study in the US with 30,000 participants.

Once efficacy is confirmed, the formulation is likely to go through emergency approval by the authorities.

Pharma giant AstraZeneca PLC (LON:AZN) is going to be the lead manufacturer, having ramped up capacity to 2bn doses.

Gilbert told MPs on the science and technology select committee the jab could reduce the severity of the disease rather than giving complete protection.

“It’s something we have to test and follow over time – we can’t know until we actually have the data – but we’re optimistic based on earlier studies that we will see a good duration of immunity, for several years at least, and probably better than naturally acquired immunity.”

Coronavirus vs flu

However, a top academic said UK hospitals should prepare for the winter with the assumption that there will not be a vaccine.

Sir John Bell, Regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, told the committee it could be difficult to separate those who are suffering from coronavirus or seasonal flu.

“This whole epidemic has relied too heavily on assumptions that have turned out not to be true… My strong advice is be prepared for the worst,” he said, adding that ramping up flu vaccines could help.

Australia’s first clinical trials to begin

In Australia, biotech firm Vaxine is to start the first clinical trials for a COVID-19 vaccine in the country.

The first phase will begin in Adelaide, involving 40 volunteers aged 18-65.

The second phase will involve participants aged 65 or older, and if successful it will apply for official approval, in a process potentially lasting six months.

The firm is using a technology mirroring previous work on jabs for the SARS virus, the Daily Mail reported.