The scientists behind the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine have given the first trial volunteers a jab for the plague.
The phase-one trial involves 40 healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 55 who will help to assess side effects of the jab and determine how well it produces a protective antibody response. The plague vaccine will be based on the design of the Oxford coronavirus jab which used a wakened version of the common cold virus.
Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, Director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said: “The coronavirus pandemic has shown the importance of vaccines to defend populations from the threat caused by bacteria and viruses.”
“Plague threatened the world in several horrific waves over past millennia, and, even today, outbreaks continue to disrupt communities. A new vaccine to prevent plague is important for them and for our health security,” he added.
In the 1300s a deadly plague swept Europe and killed an estimated 25 to 50 million people – around 30 per cent of Europe’s population and half the people in China. The plague continues to affect communities in rural areas of Africa, Asia and America with the number of cases accelerating since 1990.
Between 2010 and 2015 3,248 cases were reported globally leading to 584 deaths. A 2017 outbreak in Madagascar killed 171 people. The bubonic plague has a 30 to 60 per cent mortality rate if left untreated while the pneumonic plague is almost always fatal.
Christine Rollier, Associate Professor of Vaccinology at the Oxford Vaccine Group, said: “Although antibiotics can be used to treat plague, many areas experiencing outbreaks are very remote locations. In such areas, an effective vaccine could offer a successful prevention strategy to combat the disease.”
Volunteers will get expert follow up from the trial will for the next 12 months. Recruitment for the trials is ongoing.