AZ halts COVID-19 vaccine after safety scare, as UK faces ‘second wave’

It’s a bleak day in the fight against COVID-19, after the UK banned social gatherings of more than six people to contain growing numbers of new cases and the lead vaccine trial from AstraZeneca was halted because of a safety concern.

Shares in AstraZeneca slid following the news that the company had voluntarily paused a phase 3 trial in the US, which was first revealed by the trade website Stat.

A spokesperson for AstraZeneca said the pause in the trial studying the vaccine in dozens of sites across the US was a “routine action” after an “unexpected illness” in a patient in the UK.

The nature of the adverse reaction is not known but the participant is expected to recover said Stat, citing a source close to the matter.

The company pointed out that it will expedite its review of the single event and added that in large trials illnesses happen by chance.

According to Stat, researchers are looking for similar adverse reactions by looking through databases held by Data and Safety Monitoring Boards.

AZ’s vaccine was first developed by Oxford University and is considered by the World Health Organization to be a front-runner in a list of 34 vaccines in clinical development.

The company’s announcement came after it signed a pledge to make safety and wellbeing of vaccinated individuals a priority during development of a jab against COVID-19.

The CEOs of AZ, BioNTech, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co, Moderna, Novavax, Pfizer and Sanofi have also signed the pledge amid concerns about political interference in the build-up to the US presidential elections.

AstraZeneca’s announcement came after the UK government announced that it will ban social gatherings of more than six people in England from Monday as more than 8,000 new cases were reported since Sunday, with more than 2,460 emerging on Tuesday alone.

The ban will not apply to schools, workplaces or COVID-secure weddings, funerals and organised team sports.

Police have the power to enforce the rules through a £100 fine, doubling on each offence up to a maximum of £3,200.

Parts of the UK are also in local lockdown, with tougher rules in places such as Bolton and Caerphilly, where transmission rates have been high.

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