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AstraZeneca chief says Oxford COVID-19 vaccine could be available this year

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Dr. Nita Patel, Director of Antibody discovery and Vaccine development, lifts a vial with a potential coronavirus, COVID-19, vaccine at Novavax labs in Gaithersburg, Maryland on March 20, 2020. (AFP)

AstraZeneca, developing a COVID-19 vaccine in collaboration with Oxford University, have announced that despite having paused trials after a volunteer fell ill, the vaccine may be available by Christmas.

Pascal Soriot, chief executive of Astra Zeneca, believes AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine could still be available by the end of the year or early next year.

AstraZeneca and Oxford University, which are jointly developing the vaccine and testing it on 50,000 to 60,000 people around the world, halted trials on Wednesday to investigate the “potentially unexpected illness” of one participant.

Soriot was unable to say when the trial would resume, but said “I still think we are on track for having a set of data that we would submit before the end of the year” for regulatory approval.

They “could still have a vaccine by the end of this year, early next year”, of course, this would depend on how fast the regulator moves, he added.

Further clarifying the situation, speaking at an event hosted by the media group Tortoise, Soriot said that pausing trials in response to “adverse events” was not unusual.

“It’s very common, actually, and many experts will tell you this,” he said. “The difference with other vaccine trials is the whole world is not watching them. They stop, they study and they restart.”

The female volunteer who fell ill is to undergo additional testing and the resultant data is to be submitted to an independent safety committee, which will assess it to decide whether trials can resume.

She reportedly had neurological symptoms consistent with a rare but serious spinal inflammatory disorder called transverse myelitis.

Soriot said: “We don’t know if it’s transverse myelitis … We don’t know what the final diagnosis is.”

Transverse myelitis can be treated by steroids to reduce the inflammation but the condition can be permanent.

AstraZeneca is confident it will be able to produce 3bn doses and has already entered upon a number of manufacturing partnerships around the world.

Soirot asserts that in combination with the vaccines being developed by other pharmaceutical firms, there would be enough vaccines for the entire world population.

He stressed that the vaccine would be supplied to countries at the same time to ensure a fair and equitable distribution.

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