Health experts caution against rushing ahead on a COVID-19 vaccine as AstraZeneca paused its late-stage clinical trial after a volunteer got sick.
"The news that there was a serious adverse reaction that halted the trial one of the most promising vaccines, one that we heard a lot about, is exactly why we have to take things carefully with vaccines. They are not toys," William Haseltine, Chair and President, ACCESS Health International said.
Even after the news, President Donald Trump said at a campaign event a COVID-19 vaccine could be “only a question of weeks.” The AstraZeneca shot is one of nine possible vaccines in Phase 3. This all comes as a group of top drug makers said they won’t submit a coronavirus vaccine for FDA approval until it’s been proven to be safe and effective.
AstraZeneca began its Phase 3 trial in the U.S. in late August. Phase 2 and 3 trials were previously started in the U.K., Brazil, and South Africa. British Health Secretary Matt Hancock says this is the second time the trial paused this summer.
"Whilst we're obviously enthusiastic about how important the vaccine will be, we're also clear that we will only introduce one when it's safe. And that we will go through that proper process because, you know, we want to get to a vaccine that is both safe and effective as quickly as possible," he said.
Pausing is fairly typical in clinical trials, but it's the aggressive timeline and race for all of the COVID-19 vaccines that makes this timeout so crucial.
Dr. Anthony Fauci also reiterated how crucial public confidence is in a coronavirus vaccine.
"We've got to regain the trust of the community that when we say something is safe and effective they can be confident that is safe and effective. And that's the reason why we have to be very transparent with the data as well as what it is that goes into the decision making process about approving a vaccine," Fauci said.
AstraZeneca’s U.S. trial had been underway at 62 sites across the country, but some clinics haven’t started enrolling participants, a huge challenge on its own.
Just this week, CoVPN, the national network recruiting covid-19 vaccine volunteers, launched a program targeted at under-represented communities through churches and faith networks — communities experts say already distrust the health care system.
"There are some people who need additional information in order to help, you know, make them help them inform their decisional process. And that's where we step in," said Dr. Stephaun Wallace, External Relations Director for COVID-19 Prevention Trials Network said. "What are the efforts and the message is the clinical trial sites are getting out to the communities to help provide that information. "