AstraZeneca’s pause of its COVID-19 vaccine trial is a “wake-up call” demonstrating the challenges of the development process, according to the World Health Organization’s chief scientist.
Dr Soumya Swaminathan said that researchers should not be discouraged by the development, which was caused by a single patient developing neurological symptoms.
AZ’s vaccine, developed in partnership with the University of Oxford, is top of a list of coronavirus jabs in clinical development maintained by the WHO.
Whether it remains at the top of the list, or on the list at all, will be decided over the coming weeks as the company investigates whether the event was related to the vaccine.
Swaminathan told a virtual briefing from Geneva: “This is a wake-up call to recognise that there are ups and downs in clinical development and that we have to be prepared.
“We do not have to be discouraged. These things happen.”
The WHO’s comments came amid rising infection rates in major European countries such as the UK, France and Spain sparked concerns about a second wave during the winter months.
The UK is to ban social gatherings of more than six people from Monday amid rising numbers of daily confirmed cases, with 2,919 recorded yesterday.
There were even more recorded cases in France, with 9,843 confirmed yesterday and there were 10,764 cases recorded in Spain.
Governments are desperate for a vaccine to protect against the disease, which has killed more than 900,000 people globally and caused economic turmoil.
WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove was optimistic that the death rates could be lower in this second wave.
She said that improved care and better testing could help treat and protect those most at risk, although she cautioned that the disease’s long-term effects are not known.
Van Kerkhove said: “We are in a better position to prevent the virus from infecting vulnerable populations.”