U.S. health officials tried to reassure the public Wednesday after AstraZeneca suspended global trials of its experimental coronavirus vaccine due to an unexplained illness in a participant in Britain, casting doubt on prospects for an early rollout.
Director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health Dr. Francis Collins told lawmakers a clinical pause is not unprecedented.
“This certainly happens in any large-scale trial where you have tens of thousands of people invested in taking part, and some of them may get ill. So, this ought to be reassuring to everybody listening that when we say we are going to focus first on safety and make no comprises, here is Exhibit A about how that is happening in practice.”
AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which is being developed in conjunction with the University of Oxford, has been described by the World Health Organization as probably the world's leading candidate and the furthest developed.
A New York Times report said the ill participant was found to have transverse myelitis, an inflammatory syndrome that affects the spinal cord and is often sparked by viral infections.
Whether this was directly linked to AstraZeneca's vaccine remains unclear.
On CBS This Morning Wednesday, U.S. infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci called the pause “unfortunate,” but added this:
“Hopefully they’ll work it out and be able to proceed, but you don’t know – they need to investigate it further.”
Despite the setback, Fauci said he was still hopeful that a safe and effective vaccine would be ready by early 2021.
As for President Trump’s claim that one would be developedbefore the November 3rd presidential election, that’s less clear - and making some nervous that political pressure would play a role in when a vaccine is ready… a notion NIH chief Dr. Collins pushed back on Wednesday in testimony to Congress.
“Science and science alone will be the way in which this decision is made, otherwise I’ll have no part of it.”