Clinical trials of coronavirus vaccine

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Biopharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford on Saturday said that clinical trials for their coronavirus vaccine have resumed in the UK after the Medicines Health Regulatory Authority’s (MHRA) confirmed that the trials were safe. The human trials resumed days after a pause had been announced in the trials after an adverse reaction in one of the participants. The suspension of the under-development Covid-19 vaccine by the UK drug-maker AstraZeneca, due to the unexplained illness of a lone volunteer is neither unexpected, nor a cause of concern for the wider world desperately looking for a vaccine to neutralise the virus. The pharma firm and the top UK virologists called the suspension a mere pause, a ‘routine action’. ‘Whenever a potentially unexplained illness in one of the trials’ is detected and resolved to the satisfaction of the experts, the trial will remain suspended. The Pune-based Serum Institute of India, a partner in the Oxford-AstraZeneca trial, is contracted to manufacture millions of vaccines for domestic and foreign market. It has also temporarily stopped the trial. At the current reckoning, there are some 200 different vaccines being tried by as many pharma companies in several countries. All these are at different stages of trial.  We in India have a special interest in the AstraZeneca trial, given its production tie-up with the world’s largest vaccine maker, the Pune-based Serum Institute. One hundred volunteers were enlisted by the SII for the trial.

After analysing the results from these hundred, a hundred more were to be vaccinated. The process will restart once the cause of the illness of the lone volunteer is addressed. In this context, it is refreshing to read the joint statement issued by nine pharma companies, including AstraZeneca, which have committed themselves against prematurely releasing a vaccine and to keep the well-being of the vaccinated people foremost in their minds. Given how politicians like President Donald Trump and others of his ilk routinely announce the development of a vaccine with an eye on partisan political gains, the promise by the top-ranking pharma companies is most reassuring. The scientific domain of medicine must not be tainted by partisan politics.

Meanwhile, the rise in the number of cases daily in the country is alarming. The gradual reopening of the economy may well be a contributory factor but it is the failure of ordinary citizens to observe the basic precautions of wearing masks, keeping safe distance and washing hands regularly which seems to have caused the spurt. It is no use blaming the rise in numbers to the increased number of tests. In fact, the tests should be freely available to all citizens who want to be tested. Restricting the number of tests will not reduce the spread of the virus, though it may show the politicians in a better light. With such an ostrich-like approach, the pandemic cannot be tackled. It is a shame that the capital city of India now has the dubious distinction of topping all metros in the number of positive cases. The PR-obsessed Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal blames it on ‘aggressive testing,’ as if not testing would vanish the virus.

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