A COVID-19 vaccine developed at the University of Oxford has been found to prevent up to 90% of people from getting the virus, according to newly-published preliminary data.
The team of scientists behind the new jab is being headed up by Irish professor Adrian Hill, who previously worked on Ebola and malaria vaccines.
Late-stage findings have also revealed that the vaccine is effective in different age groups including, most crucially, the elderly. There were also no hospitalisations or severe cases among those who received the vaccine in the large-scale trial.
The data showed the vaccine is 70.4% effective which, while lower than the figures announced by the makers of other vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, is cause for celebration.
As experts have noted, that makes the vaccine more effective than most standard flu jabs while further tests have also shown that the jab is actually 90% effective at preventing Covid-19 when administered in an initial half dose followed by a full dose one month later.
Researchers believe this could be down to the fact the immune system is primed to work tackle the virus in a more gradual and, conversely, potent way.
In another test they found the vaccine had a 62% efficacy when administered as two full doses a month apart. By combined the analysis from both dosing regimens scientists concluded the vaccine has an average efficacy of 70%.
The vaccine holds a distinct advantage over the Pfizer jab in that it can be stored at standard refrigeration temperatures meaning it can be easily distributed.
Peter Horby, a professor of emerging infectious diseases and global health at the University of Oxford, backed the results of vaccine tests tweeting: "Oxford jab is far cheaper, and is easier to store and get to every corner of the world than the other two."
The drug, officially called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, works using a harmless, weakened version of a virus found in chimpanzees that causes colds.
Professor Andrew Pollard, chief investigator of the Oxford Vaccine Trial at Oxford, said: "These findings show that we have an effective vaccine that will save many lives.
"Excitingly, we've found that one of our dosing regimens may be around 90 per cent effective and, if this dosing regime is used, more people could be vaccinated with planned vaccine supply."
Today marks an important milestone in the fight against #COVID19. Interim data show the #OxfordVaccine is 70.4% effective, & tests on two dose regimens show that it could be 90%, moving us one step closer to supplying it at low cost around the world>> https://t.co/fnHnKSqftT pic.twitter.com/2KYXPxFNz1
— University of Oxford (@UniofOxford) November 23, 2020
Pascal Soriot, chief executive officer at AstraZeneca the pharmaceutical giant that helped develop the vaccine, hailed the results as an "important milestone" in the fight against the coronavirus.
"This vaccine's efficacy and safety confirm that it will be highly effective against Covid-19 and will have an immediate impact on this public health emergency,” he said.
"Furthermore, the vaccine's simple supply chain and our no-profit pledge and commitment to broad, equitable and timely access means it will be affordable and globally available, supplying hundreds of millions of doses on approval."
Professor Pollard is now calling for mass vaccinations to begin as soon as possible.
"The most important thing to get us back to normal is to use these vaccines - all of the vaccines that are going to be available - as soon as possible because once we have protected the vulnerable in the population we will be able to start getting back to normal," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
"We have just got to get on with this as soon as possible."
Sarah Gilbert, professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford, said: "The announcement today takes us another step closer to the time when we can use vaccines to bring an end to the devastation caused by (Covid-19).
"We will continue to work to provide the detailed information to regulators. It has been a privilege to be part of this multinational effort which will reap benefits for the whole world."
A breakdown of the results from the Oxford and AstraZeneca trial showed that 2,741 people were given one half dose followed by a full dose at least one month apart with 90% of recipients staying virus-free.
The other dosing regime, which involved 8,895 people, showed 62% efficacy when given as two full doses at least one month apart.