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A British woman taking part in trials of a potential Covid-19 vaccine at Oxford University started suffering from a neurological disease that prompted developers AstraZeneca to order a “global shutdown” of all tests.
The company’s chief executive, Pascal Soriot, told investors that the woman who had volunteered to take part in the trials was showing signs of a rare and sometimes serious inflammation of the spine called transverse myelitis, which damages the 'insulation' covering the spinal cord.
In the same call, reports medical news site Statnews, Soriot revealed that the trial also had to be suspended July after one test subject started experiencing neurological problems.
Soriot said that more work was needed before AstraZeneca’s vaccine would be ready for use, saying “a vaccine that nobody wants to take is not very useful.”
The company has today issued a statement from Soriot assuring the public that independent experts would be consulted before restarting the development of the vaccine “so that we can continue our work at the earliest opportunity to provide this vaccine broadly, equitably and at no profit during this pandemic.”
Francis Collins, the director of the US National Institutes of Health, told a Senate panel that it was not unusual for drugs companies to “press pause” during the development of a new medicine: “To have a clinical hold, as has been placed on AstraZeneca as of yesterday, because of a single serious adverse event is not at all unprecedented,” he said.
He added: “This certainly happens in any large-scale trial where you have tens of thousands of people invested in taking part, some of them may get ill and you always have to try to figure out: Is that because of the vaccine, or were they going to get that illness anyway?”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock also took a positive tone, despite fears that this setback could prevent release of the vaccine this side of Christmas. He told Sky News: 'It is obviously a challenge to this particular vaccine. It's not actually the first time it has happened to the Oxford vaccine and it's a standard process in clinical trials.’
He said the he had already ordered 30 million doses of the vaccine already, and told LBC: "In fact they are starting to manufacture those doses already, ahead of approval." He added that he was uncertain quite when the vaccines would be available
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