Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

New clinical trial data from two experimental coronavirus vaccines — one from Oxford University and AstraZeneca in the United Kingdom, and the other from CanSino Biologics in China — are providing cautious optimism in the race to combat the pandemic.

The big picture: Science has never moved this fast to develop a vaccine. And researchers are still several months away from a clearer idea of whether the leading candidates help people generate robust immune responses to this virus.

Driving the news: The Oxford and CanSino vaccines didn't lead to any severe adverse reactions or hospitalizations, according to the results released yesterday.

  • Safety — not efficacy — was the main thing these studies were supposed to be testing. And they performed well enough to move on to further trials.
  • Competing candidates from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech have also performed well in safety trials.

Yes, but: Future trials will be the ones that tell us whether any of these potential vaccines actually trigger patients' immune systems to respond to the virus.

  • In the results released yesterday, Oxford researchers gave their vaccine to 543 people but only tested 35 for "neutralizing antibodies." A separate, nonrandomized group of 10 people got a booster dose of the Oxford vaccine a month after the initial dose.
  • Preliminary antibody responses from CanSino's vaccine were "disappointing" to several experts.

"It's a lot of hype," said Paul Offit, a physician and vaccine expert at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "It's just trying to read the tea leaves of what will be a large phase three trial."

The bottom line: There are 23 coronavirus vaccines in clinical testing right now, according to the World Health Organization.

  • We now have data on the first four, but the studies mostly are confirming that the vaccines aren't severely harmful and that large-scale studies are warranted — not that they definitely work yet.
  • "It is good and hopeful news indeed, but we'll only know when the large trials are done," tweeted Robert Califf, a former FDA commissioner under Barack Obama.

Go deeper: Read more about the state of the global race for a vaccine

Go deeper

Oct 18, 2020 - Health

Infectious-disease expert: Scott Atlas' herd immunity claims are "pseudoscience"

Michael Osterholm, a renowned infectious-disease expert, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday that a "herd immunity" theory reportedly invoked by one of President Trump's favorite coronavirus advisers "is the most amazing combination of pixie dust and pseudoscience I've ever seen."

Context: Senior administration officials, who spoke anonymously with reporters last week in a call scheduled by the White House, said that allowing "those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection" is the "most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity," per the New York Times and Washington Post.

Coronavirus hospitalizations are on the rise

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Data: The COVID Tracking ProjectHarvard Global Health Institute; Cartogram: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Coronavirus hospitalizations are increasing in 39 states, and are at or near their all-time peak in 16.

The big picture: No state is anywhere near the worst-case situation of not having enough capacity to handle its COVID-19 outbreak. But rising hospitalization rates are a sign that things are getting worse, at a dangerous time, and a reminder that this virus can do serious harm.

Updated 14 hours ago - Health

Fauci says he's "absolutely not" surprised Trump got coronavirus

A screenshot of Anthony Fauci. Photo: CBS/"60 Minutes."

NIAID director Anthony Fauci told CBS' "60 Minutes" in an interview broadcast Sunday he's "absolutely not" surprised that President Trump contracted Covid-19 after seeing him on TV in a crowded place with "almost nobody wearing a mask."

The big picture: Fauci said after watching the footage, he thought: "'Oh my goodness. Nothing good can come outta that, that's gotta be a problem.' And then sure enough, it turned out to be a superspreader event." Fauci appeared to be referencing the Sept 26. Rose Garden celebration of Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

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