The vaccine trial being conducted by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford was put on hold due to one of the participants experiencing an unexplained illness and the need to determine if it is related to the vaccine. The company called it a “routine action” to allow an independent committee to investigate.
Public health experts say this demonstrates the systems designed to ensure the safety of trial participants is working. It also makes sure the product will be safe if it gets approved to be used in millions of people. When there are trials with thousands of people, some will get sick. The appropriate action is to determine whether it’s related to the potential vaccine. The length of the pause is difficult to estimate since it’s dependent on the committee.
Experts don’t want the public to be alarmed over this development, mainly because there’s already skepticism about who’s in charge of the process—politicians or scientists. They say this clearly demonstrates that it’s the scientists. To continue to calm the public’s fears, nine pharmaceutical companies issued a joint statement yesterday saying that they will “stand with science” and not put out a vaccine unless it has been proven to be safe and effective.
While the companies didn’t rule out seeking emergency authorization for the vaccines, they did confirm that all of them would go through “large, high-quality clinical trials” first and they would follow the guidance issued by regulatory agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This announcement comes on the heels of the president saying that he expects to have a vaccine by Election Day, which many public health officials feel is too soon and unlikely.
When it comes to the elderly and COVID-19, the consequence is significant. Part of the reason is they usually have underlying medical conditions that leave them more susceptible to infections. One factor that experts think is playing a considerable role is their aging immune system.
As the immune system ages, it changes how it responses to invaders. Even perfectly healthy elderly individuals have higher levels of immune proteins, like cytokines, which are involved in inflammation. This chronic inflammation is linked to frailty. So, older adults with higher levels of it may be more fragile and have a harder time fighting off pathogens.
For the elderly, sometimes, their immune system overreacts; whereas, other times, there’s a delay in the reaction. This greatly influences how well, or poorly, someone fares when they become sick. Many immunologists who study the effects of aging on the immune system feel that we could develop better treatments and vaccines for elderly individuals if we had a better understanding of how this relationship.