The safety of a prospective coronavirus vaccine comes “first and foremost,” the World Health Organization’s chief scientist said on Wednesday, as a trial of a leading candidate from AstraZeneca was paused due to concerns over side effects.
Rollout of an effective vaccine is seen as a crucial step in helping battered economies recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
“Just because we talk about speed … it doesn’t mean we start compromising or cutting corners on what would normally be assessed,” Dr. Soumya Swaminathan said at a social media event.
WATCH | Infectious disease specialist explains what may have halted vaccine trial:
“The process still has to follow the rules of the game. For drugs and vaccines, which are given to people, you have to test their safety first and foremost.”
WHO officials did not immediately respond directly to questions from Reuters over the move by AstraZeneca to pause global trials, including large late-stage trials, of its experimental coronavirus vaccine due to an unexplained illness in a study participant.
The United Kingdom’s medical regulator said on Wednesday it is urgently reviewing information available to determine whether AstraZeneca can restart the trials.
In an email, director of licensing at the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) Siu Ping Lam said the regulator is working with the Oxford Vaccine Centre to review the safety data, in line with protocol for the trial.
“We are urgently reviewing all the information and actively engaging with the researchers to determine whether the trial should restart as quickly as possible,” he said.
The vaccine, which AstraZeneca is developing with the University of Oxford, has previously been described by WHO as probably the world’s leading candidate and the most advanced in terms of development.
U.S. infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Wednesday that AstraZeneca’s decision to halt the trials was unfortunate but not an uncommon safety precaution in a vaccine development process.
“It’s really one of the safety valves that you have on clinical trials such as this, so it’s unfortunate that it happened,” Fauci told CBS This Morning in an interview.
“Hopefully, they’ll work it out and be able to proceed along with the remainder of the trial, but you don’t know. They need to investigate it further.”
WATCH | Pausing massive vaccine trial not routine, says respirologist:
WHO is in the midst of rounding up support for a global coalition, called the ACT Accelerator, in the hope of fairly distributing vaccines, treatments and diagnostics for the novel coronavirus to rich and poor countries alike.
In addition to 92 lower-income countries seeking aid, some 79 wealthier countries have expressed interest, with a Sept. 18 deadline for binding commitments.
But some countries have struck their own vaccine deals, including the United States, which is not joining the WHO effort.
The vaccine pillar of ACT, called COVAX, hopes to secure enough vaccine to deliver two billion doses by the end of 2021, though concrete fundraising has, so far, lagged behind goals. Volume buying and possible tiered pricing offered by some manufacturers could help make a vaccine more affordable, Swaminathan said.
“You need to come together. Essentially, if every country and every organization tries to do this on their own, it’s going to be long and hard and difficult,” she said. “This is the first time that the world will need vaccines in the billions of doses.”
What is happening with coronavirus in Canada
As of 3:45 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada had 134,096 confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 117,945 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 9,195.
The Bank of Canada says the economic recovery from COVID-19 will need help from policymakers, which is why the central bank is committing to keeping its benchmark interest rate at 0.25 per cent for as long as necessary.
The move to keep the bank’s benchmark rate — known as the target for the overnight rate — was exactly what economists had been expecting, and the bank explained its rationale by noting that all signs suggest the economy is recovering just about how the bank predicted it would in July, when it made its last interest rate decision.
Like most other countries, Canada’s economy fell into a deep freeze in March when COVID-19 prompted widespread lockdowns. But as things slowly began to reopen in May and through the summer months, the economy began to recover, too.
WATCH | Doctor on what Canada needs to do to curb rising COVID-19 cases:
While economic indicators such as GDP and the job market have yet to get back to where they were before, they do seem to be headed there — which is why the bank says it is making sure that interest rates remain low so that businesses can get the money they need to borrow and invest to grow.
While COVID-19 cases continue to grow at a rapid pace in the United States, the economy there is recovering a bit better than expected, the bank noted, which is good news for Canada’s economy since so much of what Canada makes is ultimately sold to the U.S. But oil prices remain low, which is slowing things down a little for Canada’s economic recovery.
Meanwhile, the leaders of the two provinces hardest-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic met in Mississauga, Ont., on Wednesday to discuss economic recovery and health preparedness.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Quebec Premier François Legault convened an inaugural summit to talk about what they see as key areas for co-operation, including reducing barriers to international trade.
At a news conference, the premiers called on Ottawa to increase health transfers to the provinces, saying sustainable, long-term funding is required on top of the federal COVID-19 relief to address health-care issues that predate the pandemic.
Here’s what’s happening around the world
According to Johns Hopkins University, the global total of confirmed coronavirus cases stands at more than 27.6 million. More than 898,000 people have died, while over 18.5 million have recovered.
Thailand said on Wednesday it had tested nearly 600 people potentially exposed to the country’s first domestic coronavirus case in over three months, but has so far found no new infections.
The man, 37, had worked as a nightclub DJ at three different venues in the capital Bangkok in the two weeks before he tested positive on arrival in prison, following his recent conviction for a drugs-related offence.
Individuals deemed at risk across 12 venues including the court where he appeared, nightclubs and supermarkets were tracked down and 569 tests were administered, the Public Health Ministry said.
The Czech Republic reported on Wednesday a record one-day spike in COVID-19 infections, with 1,164 new cases, as it battles a surging spread of the coronavirus.
Daily case figures have regularly come in above 500 so far in September, already well above a previous daily peak of 377 in March during the first wave of infections.
However, the death toll in the Czech Republic has remained lower than in many other European countries, with 441 fatalities reported as of Wednesday out of a total of 29,877 cases since the start of the pandemic.
New limits on social gatherings in England to six people are set to stay in place for the “foreseeable future,” potentially until or even through Christmas, British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Wednesday.
Hancock said the new limit for both indoor and outdoor gatherings, which will come into force and be enforceable by law from Monday, will provide “more clarity” to people and should help keep a lid on a recent sharp spike in new coronavirus cases.
One of the reasons for the pick-up in cases is that many people have been confused over the past few months as lockdown restrictions have been eased, notably over how they relate to gatherings both in and out of the home. Scientists say a clear message is crucial in containing pandemics.
Russia said on Wednesday that 142 people had died from the coronavirus in the last 24 hours, raising the official death toll to 18,135.
Russia’s coronavirus taskforce reported 5,218 new cases, bringing its nationwide tally to 1,041,007, the fourth largest caseload in the world.
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The number of new coronavirus cases registered in the Netherlands surged to 1,140 in the past 24 hours, the health minister said on Wednesday, the highest daily total since April.
Hugo de Jonge announced the figures recorded by the National Institute for Health (RIVM) during a live video stream.
“It’s not going the right way,” De Jonge said. A day earlier, the country recorded 964 cases, with cases rising quickly among young adults.
The RIVM said the increase was not tied to the reopening of primary schools across the country over the past three weeks.
Security officials in Germany say thousands of far-right extremists took part in a demonstration against the country’s coronavirus restrictions last month that culminated in attempts by some protesters to storm parliament.
The head of Berlin state’s intelligence service, Michael Fischer, told lawmakers Wednesday that a preliminary review of images from the Aug. 29 protest indicated that “at least 2,500 to 3,000 right-wing extremists and Reich Citizens took part in the protests.” The Reich Citizens movement disputes the legitimacy of the post-Second World War German constitution, and the movement overlaps with far-right groups.
Fischer said those counted so far were identified as far-right extremists based on the clothing, flags, symbols and slogans they were carrying.
Portugal reported 646 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, the highest daily toll since April 20, with transmission primarily occurring in family households, Health Secretary of State Jamila Madeira told a news conference.
New cases fell to around 100 a day at the beginning of August but have crept back up since then, worrying the tourism industry as it waits to hear whether it will be taken back out of the U.K.’s air bridge list allowing restriction-free travel between countries with low infection rates.
Stricter measures to curb the coronavirus outbreak will be introduced across Portugal from mid-September as students return to schools and many workers go back to the office, although details have yet to be announced.