COVID-19 vaccine trial on hold after unexplained illness

File: An AstraZeneca spokesperson for the vaccine said they voluntarily paused vaccination to allow a review of safety data by an independent committee.

File: An AstraZeneca spokesperson for the vaccine said they voluntarily paused vaccination to allow a review of safety data by an independent committee.

Reuters/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

LONDON - Clinical trials on one of the most advanced experimental COVID-19 vaccines, which is being developed by pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and Oxford University, were "paused" after a volunteer developed an unexplained illness. 

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.

Worldwide infections to date now stand at more than 27 million, and more than 890,000 people have died from the disease.

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A spokesperson for the AstraZeneca vaccine said in a statement "we voluntarily paused vaccination to allow review of safety data by an independent committee".

"This is a routine action which has to happen whenever there is a potentially unexplained illness in one of the trials, while it is investigated, ensuring we maintain the integrity of the trials."

The company said that in large-scale trials, illnesses will sometimes happen by chance, but must be reviewed independently.

READ: No widespread coronavirus vaccination before mid-2021: WHO

AstraZeneca did not offer further details, but David Lo, a professor of biomedical sciences at the University of California, Riverside, told AFP the pause may not necessarily be a setback.

"Probably right now it's just being cautious -- it's a pause, it's not the same thing as saying, 'We can't move forward'," said Lo. 

"In some ways I'm quite relieved, it means they're really paying attention."

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The volunteer may have experienced an adverse reaction already seen in earlier patients such as fever and soreness, but in a more severe form, Lo added.

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.

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Source
AFP