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Safe vaccine a priority, says WHO after trial delay

2020-09-09 HKT 17:56
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  • Safe vaccine a priority, says WHO after trial delay
Safety of a prospective Covid-19 vaccine comes "first and foremost", the World Health Organisation's chief scientist said on Wednesday, as a trial of a leading candidate from AstraZeneca was paused due to concerns over side effects.

Rollout of an effective vaccine is seen as a crucial step in helping battered economies recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

"Just because we talk about speed...it doesn't mean we start compromising or cutting corners on what would normally be assessed," Dr Soumya Swaminathan said in a social media event.

"The process still has to follow through rules of the game. For drugs and vaccines which are given to people, you have to test their safety, first and foremost," she said.

WHO officials did not immediately respond directly to questions over the move by AstraZeneca to pause global trials, including large late-stage trials, of its experimental coronavirus vaccine due to an unexplained illness in a study participant.

The vaccine, which AstraZeneca is developing with the University of Oxford, has previously been described by the WHO as probably the world's leading candidate and the most advanced in terms of development.

The British drugmaker has not released details of the incident. A New York Times report said a UK-based participant was found to have transverse myelitis, an inflammatory syndrome that affects the spinal cord and is often sparked by viral infections.

But countries which had signed deals for AstraZeneca vaccine brushed off concerns over the reported setback.

Australia, which has ordered millions of doses if the vaccine proves successful, said the country had invested in several inoculation candidates "knowing not all of them will get through”.

A top health official in the country also said the pause in the trial does not mean the vaccine had been scrapped and showed safety standards were being adhered to.

Britain's health minister Matt Hancock said it was not the first pause in the trials of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

"It's a standard process in clinical trials. There was a pause earlier in the summer and that was resolved without a problem," he told Sky News.

With billions of people around the world still suffering with the fallout of the pandemic and the global death toll nearing 900,000, a worldwide race for a vaccine is underway, with nine companies already in late-stage Phase 3 trials.

China, meanwhile, put its homegrown vaccines on display for the first time at a Beijing trade fair this week, and authorities hope it will be approved for use by the end of the year.

Russia has already approved a vaccine, and research published in The Lancet medical journal last week said patients involved in early tests developed antibodies with "no serious adverse events", although scientists cautioned the trials were too small. (Reuters, AFP)