Is there a coronavirus vaccine and will it help control the outbreak?

Work on a vaccine for the coronavirus is well underway, it has been confirmed, but it will likely not be ready in time to prevent a full outbreak in the UK.

The Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that while “it's not unreasonable to assume that we will end up with a vaccine”, it will likely take between a year and 18 months before it is ready.

Here’s everything we know about the vaccine so far.

Is a vaccine being developed for the coronavirus?

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In early January, the Chinese government made its information on the coronavirus’s RNA sequence publicly available so that researchers around the world could get to work on developing a vaccine.

A vaccine works by providing an individual with acquired immunity to a particular infectious disease by exposing them to it in a controlled fashion, so having this information has provided a huge boost.

As a result, work has already begun in the USA, Europa and Australia, with more than 30 different institutions currently working on a vaccine.

Researchers at Australia’s Doherty Institute were the first to grow a live sample of the virus outside of China, further boosting international efforts to manufacture a vaccine.

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A team of researchers working for American pharmaceutical giant Inovio are currently working on a vaccine for the coronavirus.

Scottish scientist Dr Kate Broderick confirmed on Thursday 5 March that the vaccine has already been through successful animal trials and will begin human testing shortly.

The project is currently months ahead of schedule and will now aim to begin clinical trials in April.

When will it be ready?

While the speed at which the vaccine is being developed is “unprecedented” according to Dr Broderick, there is still a long way to go before it could become publicly available.

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Historically, vaccines have taken years to develop and, while the international co-operation on show may drastically reduce that timeframe, the World Health Organisation has said that it could still be as long as 18 months.

Sir Patrick Vallance, has said he does not think a working vaccine will be produced in time for the coronavirus outbreak.

In his BBC Radio 4 interview, he said: "I don't think we will get the vaccine for this outbreak. I don't think we'll get something in time or at scale for this outbreak."

Assuming the clinical trials go ahead in April, they will take months to complete. Rigorous clinical tests have to be carried out gradually over a long period of time to ensure that the vaccine is both safe and effective.

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If the trials all prove successful and the vaccine is cleared for use, there is still the matter of mass-producing it at a level high enough to combat the rapidly spreading virus.

In all likelihood, it will be some time next year before a vaccine becomes available.

Like Dr Broderick, Sir Vallance was quick to emphasise how impressive the progress has been, saying that the idea of having a vaccine ready in 18 months was “remarkable when you consider just a few years ago it would have taken 20 years to do that.”

There is then the further problem that the virus could continue to mutate in ways that would render the vaccine ineffective.

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It could even evolve differently in different parts of the world, depending on the conditions.

What treatments are available?

According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccines are our best method for preventing the spread of infectious diseases.

They are the reason that smallpox has been eradicated and that polio, measles and tetanus have been removed from much of the world.

Developing a vaccine would almost certainly be the best method of truly defeating the coronavirus.

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However, at the moment, preventing the spread of the disease is still the top priority.

To do so, it’s best to focus on basic procedures like thoroughly washing hands, coughing into the elbow and self-isolating if you do become unwell.

For those who do become infected, the symptoms are usually quite mild. Outside of the elderly and members of other vulnerable groups, most people will recover perfectly well simply by treating the virus like any other cold-type bug.

Other anti-viral drugs are also undergoing clinical trials at the moment but it is unclear if any of them will prove successful.

Coronavirus: the facts

What is coronavirus?

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COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.

What caused coronavirus?

The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.

How is it spread?

As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But.similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Therefore covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.

What are the symptoms?

The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell.

What precautions can be taken?

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Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly. The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.

Should I avoid public places?

Most people who feel well can continue to go to work, school and public places and should only stay at home and self isolate if advised by a medical professional or the coronavirus service.

What should I do if I feel unwell?

Don’t go to your GP but instead call NHS 111 or look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next.

When to call NHS 111

NHS 111 should be used if you feel unwell with coronavirus symptoms, have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus.

Sources: World Health Organisation and NHS

This article originally appeared on our sister site, The Scotsman.