WHO calls delay in AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine trial a ‘wake up call’

A photo taken in the late hours of May 29, 2020 shows a sign of the World Health Organization (WHO) at their headquarters in Geneva amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus.

Fabrice Coffirni | AFP | Getty Images

World Health Organization officials said AstraZeneca’s decision to delay the phase three trial of its experimental Covid-19 vaccine for safety reasons is a reminder that vaccine development is “not always a fast and a straight road.” 

AstraZeneca’s announced Tuesday that it was placing a hold on stage three human trials for its potential vaccine, which it’s developing alongside the University of Oxford, after one of the participants showed signs of a potential serious adverse reaction, which was first reported by STAT News. The company told CNBC the delay was a “routine action” whenever there’s an unexplained illness under investigation. 

WHO Chief Scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan said Thursday there’s no need to be “overly discouraged” by the news, adding that “these things happen.” 

“There’s a protocol for what you do when something happens,” Swaminathan said during a press briefing at the organization’s Geneva headquarters. “If it’s a mild side effect, there are things to be done. If it’s major as it was in this case — it was a severe side event — and therefore the trial was halted. And again this is normal procedure. This is good clinical practice because safety is of the upmost, highest priority in any clinical trial.” 

While the WHO hopes the vaccine’s trials will resume soon, it must wait for more information provided by a data and safety monitoring board, which will determine how to proceed with the trials, Swaminathan said. 

“I think this is a good … perhaps a wake up call or a lesson for everyone to recognize the fact that there are ups and downs in research, there are ups and downs in clinical development and we have to be prepared for those,” she said.  “We hope that things will be able to move on but again it depends. It depends on a lot, and we have to wait to see the details of what actually happened.”

AstraZeneca’s Chief Executive Officer Pascal Soriot maintained on Thursday, however, that the company should still know whether its vaccine is effective against the coronavirus by the end of this year as long as trials resume soon, Reuters reported.

This is a developing story. Please check back later for updates. 

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