Researchers at the University of Oxford today launched trials to test a new vaccine against plague, the disease famous for wiping out one third of Europe's population in the 1300s.

The trial will see forty healthy adults aged 18 to 55 given the new vaccine in order to assess side effects and determine how well it induces protective antibody and T cell responses.

The vaccine will use the same ChAdOx1 adenovirus viral vector platform as the Oxford covid-19 vaccine.

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.”

There are three different types of plague: bubonic, pneumonic and septicaemic.

If left untreated, the bubonic form has a 30 percent to 60 percent fatality rate and the pneumonic form is almost always fatal. Both bubonic and pneumonic plague can develop into a life-threatening infection of the blood called septicaemia.

The most well-know example of plague is the Black Death of the 1300s which was the biggest pandemic in history and caused the deaths of hundreds of millions of people worldwide.

Although plague has been eliminated in much of the world, cases do still occur in rural Africa, Asia and even America.

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.”

Between 2010 and 2015 there were 3,248 cases of plague reported globally, including 584 deaths. 

A recent epidemic in Madagascar saw 2,119 suspected cases and 171 deaths from August 2017 to November 2017.