The safety of a prospective coronavirus vaccine comes “first and foremost,” the World Health Organization’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 the rules of the game. For drugs and vaccines which are given to people, you have to test their safety first and foremost.”
WHO officials did not immediately respond directly to questions from Reuters 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 United Kingdom’s medical regulator said on Wednesday it is urgently reviewing information available to determine whether AstraZeneca can restart the trials.
In an email, director of licensing at the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) Siu Ping Lam said the regulator is working with the Oxford Vaccine Centre to review the safety data, in line with protocol for the trial.
“We are urgently reviewing all the information and actively engaging with the researchers to determine whether the trial should restart as quickly as possible,” he said.
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.
U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Wednesday that AstraZeneca’s decision to halt the trials was unfortunate but not an uncommon safety precaution in a vaccine development process.
“It’s really one of the safety valves that you have on clinical trials such as this, so it’s unfortunate that it happened,” Fauci told CBS This Morning in an interview.
WATCH | Shutting down massive vaccine trial ‘not’ routine, says respirologist:
“Hopefully, they’ll work it out and be able to proceed along with the remainder of the trial, but you don’t know. They need to investigate it further.”
The WHO is in the midst of rounding up support for a global coalition, called the ACT Accelerator, in the hope of fairly distributing vaccines, treatments and diagnostics for the novel coronavirus to rich and poor countries alike. In addition to 92 lower-income countries seeking aid, some 79 wealthier countries have expressed interest, with a Sept. 18 deadline for binding commitments.
But some countries have struck their own vaccine deals, including the United States, which is not joining the WHO effort.
The vaccine pillar of ACT, called COVAX, hopes to secure enough vaccine to deliver two billion doses by the end of 2021, though concrete fundraising has, so far, lagged goals. Volume buying and possible tiered pricing offered by some manufacturers could help make a vaccine more affordable, Swaminathan said.
“You need to come together. Essentially, if every country and every organization tries to do this on their own, it’s going to be long and hard and difficult,” she said. “This is the first time that the world will need vaccines in the billions of doses.”
What is happening with coronavirus in Canada
As of 5 a.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada had 133,563 confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 117,565 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 9,194.
B.C. is ordering nightclubs and stand-alone banquet halls closed, ending the sale of liquor at restaurants past 10 p.m. and telling venues to reduce the volume from music or other sources to conversational levels, as cases of COVID-19 continue to spike in the province.
Bars and restaurants must close by 11 p.m., unless they are serving food.
The amendments to public health orders come as the province reported 429 new cases of COVID-19 over a four-day period, bringing the total to 6,591. Two more people, both in long-term care, have died of the virus.
Watch | Dr. Bonnie Henry lays out amendments to the province’s public health orders:
The new numbers represent four reporting periods over the long weekend. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said 123 of the cases were recorded between Friday and Saturday, 116 were reported between Saturday and Sunday, 107 between Sunday and Monday, and 83 new cases were confirmed between Monday and Tuesday.
There are three new health-care associated outbreaks, at Burnaby Hospital, Rideau Retirement Centre and Holy Family Hospital. There are no new community outbreaks, though there have been several exposure events in the Lower Mainland. Hospitalizations in B.C. remain relatively stable, with 32 people in hospital and 12 in intensive care.
Here’s what’s happening around the world
According to Johns Hopkins University, the global total of confirmed coronavirus cases stands at more than 27.5 million. More than 897,000 people have died, while 18.5 million have recovered.
Thailand said on Wednesday it had tested nearly 600 people potentially exposed to the country’s first domestic coronavirus case in over three months, but has so far found no new infections.
The man, 37, had worked as a nightclub DJ at three different venues in the capital Bangkok in the two weeks before he tested positive on arrival in prison, following his recent conviction for a drugs-related offence.
Individuals deemed at risk across 12 venues including the court where he appeared, nightclubs and supermarkets were tracked down and 569 tests were administered, the Public Health Ministry said.
The Czech Republic reported on Wednesday a record one-day spike in COVID-19 infections, with 1,164 new cases, as it battles a surging spread of the coronavirus.
Daily case figures have regularly come in above 500 so far in September, already well above a previous daily peak of 377 in March during the first wave of infections.
However, the death toll in the Czech Republic has remained lower than in many other European countries, with 441 fatalities reported as of Wednesday out of a total of 29,877 cases since the start of the pandemic.
New limits on social gatherings in England to six people are set to stay in place for the “foreseeable future,” potentially until or even through Christmas, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Wednesday.
Hancock said the new limit for both indoor and outdoor gatherings, which will come into force and be enforceable by law from Monday, will provide “more clarity” to people and should help keep a lid on a recent sharp spike in new coronavirus cases.
One of the reasons for the pick-up in cases is that many people have been confused over the past few months as lockdown restrictions have been eased, notably over how they relate to gatherings both in and out of the home. Scientists say a clear message is crucial in containing pandemics.
Russia said on Wednesday 142 people had died from the novel coronavirus in the last 24 hours, raising the official death toll to 18,135.
Russia’s coronavirus taskforce reported 5,218 new cases, bringing its nationwide tally to 1,041,007, the fourth largest caseload in the world.
WATCH | Chronicling the pandemic through masks:
The number of new coronavirus cases registered in the Netherlands surged to 1,140 in the past 24 hours, the health minister said on Wednesday, the highest daily total since April.
Hugo de Jonge announced the figures recorded by the National Institute for Health (RIVM) during a live video stream. “It’s not going the right way,” De Jonge said. A day earlier, the country recorded 964 cases, with cases rising quickly among young adults.
The RIVM said the increase was not tied to the reopening of primary schools across the country over the past three weeks.
German security officials say thousands of far-right extremists took part in a demonstration against the country’s coronavirus restrictions last month that culminated in attempts by some protesters to storm parliament.
The head of Berlin state’s intelligence service, Michael Fischer, told lawmakers Wednesday that a preliminary review of images from the Aug. 29 protest indicated that “at least 2,500 to 3,000 right-wing extremists and Reich Citizens took part in the protests.” The Reich Citizens movement disputes the legitimacy of the post-Second World War German constitution, and the movement overlaps with far-right groups.
Fischer said those counted so far were identified as far-right extremists based on the clothing, flags, symbols and slogans they were carrying.