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Peru suspends clinical trials of Chinese COVID vaccine

Peru has temporarily suspended clinical trials of a COVID vaccine made by Chinese drug giant Sinopharm after detecting neurological problems in one of its test volunteers.

On Friday, Dec. 11, The National Institute of Health said that it had decided to interrupt the trial after a volunteer had difficulty moving their arms, according to local media.

Germán Málaga, a health researcher at the Cayetano Heredia University in Lima, where the trial is taking place, said a volunteer presented neurological problems, resulting in difficulty moving his legs. Dr. Málaga told radio station RPP Noticias that he didn’t believe the health problem was due to the vaccine, but more information was needed.

“Several days ago we signaled, as we are required, to the regulatory authorities that one of our participants (in trials) presented neurological symptoms which could correspond to a condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome,” said chief researcher German Malaga in comments to the press.

“We are concerned about the situation, and we are providing all of our help and support to ensure that it is cleared up,” he added.

Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare and non-contagious disorder which affects the movement of the arms and legs. Peru declared a temporary health emergency in five regions in June last year following multiple cases. 

In the 1970s a campaign to innoculate Americans against a supposedly devastating strain of swine flu ground to a halt after some 450 of those vaccinated developed the syndrome, which can also cause paralysis.

The health ministry said the event is “under investigation to determine if it is related to the vaccine or if there is another explanation.”

“The decision to temporarily suspend clinical trials is a safety measure contemplated in the regulations for clinical trials and protocols established to protect the health of research subjects,” the health ministry added in the statement.

Sinopharm Group Co Ltd, which is conducting its trials in Peru with some 12,000 volunteers, was about to complete the first stage of the trials in the next few days. Some 36,544 people have died so far in Peru from the coronavirus pandemic.

If they are successful — which won’t be known until mid-2021 — the Peruvian government was expected to buy up to 20 million doses to inoculate two-thirds of its population.

60,000 across the globe have already taken the Sinopharm vaccine, including volunteers in Argentina, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Peru has one of the world’s highest per capita death rate from the virus, which as of Friday had caused 36,499 deaths and 979,111 infections.

The pandemic has hit the South American country’s economy hard, with GDP plunging more than 30 percent in the second quarter.

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Written by Peter Gonzales

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