SYDNEY (Reuters) – AstraZeneca Plc’s suspension of its COVID-19 vaccine trials after a participant’s unexplained illness did not mean the vaccine had been scrapped and showed safety standards were being adhered to, Australia’s deputy chief medical officer said on Wednesday.
The British drugmaker said it voluntarily paused trials to allow an independent committee to review safety data, and it was working to expedite the review.
The New York Times cited a person familiar with matter as saying the illness was transverse myelitis, an inflammatory syndrome that affects the spinal cord and is often sparked by viral infections. AstraZeneca did not disclose the illness and declined to comment on the report.
“With the information that I have got at the moment, I am not worried about it,” Nick Coatsworth, the country’s deputy chief medical officer told Sky News, adding the pause does not mean the vaccine “is off the table”.
“In some respects, this is a very positive thing because it shows that despite the accelerated vaccine development, safety is the priority of the clinical trialists and investigators,” he said.
While Australia has ordered millions of doses if the vaccine proves successful, Coatsworth said the country had invested in several inoculation candidates “knowing not all of them will get through”.
The Australian state at the centre of the country’s coronavirus outbreak, Victoria, reported 76 new cases on Wednesday, its biggest rise in daily cases in three days although average daily case numbers in regional areas were declining.
Regional Victoria was “on the cusp” of meeting its target average rate of new infections to justify easing restrictions on Sept. 14, state Premier Daniel Andrews told a news conference. A higher-level lockdown of Melbourne will end on Sept. 28 at the earliest.
Victoria, home to one-quarter of Australia’s 25 million population, now accounts for about 75% of the country’s almost 26,500 COVID-19 cases and 90% of its 781 deaths.
New South Wales, the country’s most populous state, logged nine new daily cases, while the northern state of Queensland reported eight.
(Reporting by Renju Jose and Byron Kaye in Sydney; Editing by Michael Perry and Edwina Gibbs)