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Halt of AstraZeneca’s COVID Vax Trial Exposes the Downside Risk of Rushing

WASHINGTON–()–AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest global AIDS organization, reiterated its concern about the headlong global rush to bring a COVID-19 vaccine to market against the very real possibility of greatly diminished public trust over ‘warp speed’ vaccine efforts that fall short or outright fail. AHF renewed its concerns and caution on the heels of news that AstraZeneca, a perceived frontrunner in the vaccine race, has voluntarily halted its COVID vaccine trial after ‘a serious adverse reaction’ occurred in one patient in its Phase 3 study in the U.K. which only began in in late August.

“The downside risk of rushing a vaccine through clinical trials in order to bring it to market first is a bad bet,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein. “The damage to the public trust could be nearly insurmountable in that it could severly affect uptake of an eventual successful COVID vaccine as well as any and all other vaccines that follow.”

AHF also called on the global public health community and governments to exercise caution and due diligence in fast-tracking vaccine candidates for prevention of COVID-19.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, COVID-19 has infected 27.5 million people and claimed over 896,000 lives. The devastating effects of the pandemic on all aspects of human activity cannot be understated. The impact of the virus on public health, the global economy, politics and civic institutions will likely be felt for generations. Amid this crisis, the possibility of an effective vaccine for COVID-19 holds a hopeful promise for a gradual end to the pandemic.

In a race to create a vaccine, some countries, such as China and Russia, have also accelerated the development process by forgoing lengthy late-stage vaccine clinical trials. In a public health emergency this may seem like a necessary move, but it comes with serious risks.

In a typical vaccine development cycle, initial small-scale efficacy and safety trials in animals and humans are usually followed by large-scale, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials involving thousands of people over a period of years. This final and most rigorous step is designed to confirm with a high degree of certain if a vaccine is safe and effective on a population level.

Vaccines have saved millions of lives across the world from death, disability, and illness. Smallpox, which typically killed 30% of infected patients, was eradicated in 1980 thanks to an effective vaccine. Polio, a crippling disease primarily affecting children, has been eradicated in many parts of the world as a result of a concerted vaccination campaign spanning decades.

Annual influenza inoculations save millions of lives and human papilloma virus vaccine prevents thousands of cases of cervical cancer each year. There is no doubt that vaccines save lives and are safe when adequate time is spent on testing and studying them before they become publicly available.

The safety record of vaccines speaks to how well the development and approval process works. There have only been a handful of serious vaccine adverse events in recent history, but they underscore the fact that there are risks associated with vaccines.

Rushed vaccine development increases the risk of unforeseen negative health outcomes. Setting aside any economic or political reasons governments and private companies might have in being first to develop an effective COVID-19 vaccine, this striving is understandable on humanitarian grounds – millions of people are suffering, and thousands are dying.

“Viewing a vaccine as a magis bullet is also wrongheaded,” added Weinstein. “For even with a successful vaccine, many people will become infected and some will die as the vaccine is rolled out just to timing and availability of the vaccine.”

“Public trust in global and national health institutions is vital to the world – without it, there can be no public health. In a rush to develop a COVID-19 vaccine by taking shortcuts to bypass rigorous clinical trials, governments recklessly risk the lives of millions of people, along with their trust in institution that undergird the entire structure of healthcare and global health security,” said Dr. Jorge Saavedra, Executive Director of the AHF Global Public Health Institute at the University of Miami. “We urge the global public health community, the pharmaceutical industry and governments to be transparent about the risks and unknowns in the development of a COVID-19 vaccine. They should pursue rapid vaccine development in the interest of humanity, while following time-proven clinical trial protocols, to ensure the highest possible level of vaccine safety and efficacy.”

For more information, please contact Ged Kenslea at gedk@aidshealth.org or (323) 791-5526

AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest global AIDS organization, currently provides medical care and/or services to over 1.4 million people in 45 countries worldwide in the US, Africa, Latin America/Caribbean, the Asia/Pacific Region and Eastern Europe. To learn more about AHF, please visit our website: www.aidshealth.org, find us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/aidshealth and follow us on Twitter: @aidshealthcare and Instagram: @aidshealthcare.

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