Clinical trials of one of the most advanced experimental COVID-19 vaccines resumed on Saturday after a brief safety hiatus as infection numbers continued to rise in countries around the world.
World hopes for a respite from the pandemic were dashed earlier this week when pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and Oxford University announced that they had “voluntarily suspended” their vaccine study after a British volunteer developed an unexplained disease.
However, on Saturday the process was cleared by UK regulators to resume after a security clearance. The company also announced that it will resume clinical trials in Brazil next Monday after receiving the green light there too.
The global death toll from the coronavirus has risen to 916,000 from 28.5 million infections, while France and the United Arab Emirates set new milestones for daily infections on Saturday.
And with billions still suffering from the effects of the pandemic, there is a global race for a vaccine. Nine companies are already in late-stage phase 3 studies.
Even during the hiatus, AstraZeneca said it remained hopeful that the vaccine could still be available “by the end of this year, early next year”.
Oxford University said that “in large studies like this one, some participants are expected to feel uncomfortable and each case must be carefully assessed”.
Charlotte Summers, professor of intensive care medicine at Cambridge University, said the break shows the researchers’ commitment to “putting safety at the heart of their development program”.
“To fight the global COVID-19 pandemic, we need to develop vaccines and therapies that people are comfortable with. So it is important to maintain public confidence that we are sticking to the evidence and not drawing conclusions before information is available, “she said.
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That public trust will be crucial in convincing a public that is impatient for a vaccine – and, in some corners, skeptical.
Among the impatient is US President Donald Trump, accused by rival Joe Biden of “undermining public confidence” by regularly increasing the possibility that a vaccine will be ready before the November elections.
The Republican president is under pressure as the US toll continues to rise and approaches 6.5 million cases with more than 193,000 deaths on Saturday – by far the most in either measure in the world.
Biden also called Trump “ruthless” for holding a rally in the city of Reno, Nevada, even after the venue had to be changed because the event violated local Covid-19 restrictions.
The television pictures of the rally on Saturday showed a crowd in the open air with few face masks.
Some of those who may be skeptical of a vaccine emerged on Saturday in numerous German cities and the Polish capital, Warsaw, to protest measures against corona virus and often defy the rules for wearing masks.
The movement is made up of a range of diverse groups, from self-proclaimed “free thinkers” to anti-vaccine activists, conspiracy theorists and far-right activists.
Image credit: AFP
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