The first clinical trial of an Italian-developed COVID-19 vaccine started at Rome's Spallanzani hospital on Monday, as Italy faces a constant surge in new coronavirus cases.
The Italian vaccine is just one of several candidates being developed and tested worldwide in a continued effort to shield the global population from the outbreak.
Many potential vaccines, including one produced by a UK-Italian joint venture, are now in different stages of development.
“I am very satisfied and proud of this," said Francesco Vaia, Spallanzani’s health director. "If all goes well and we finish this trial within this year, we could have the vaccine ready by next spring on a commercial basis."
The first of 90 volunteers to undergo the trial test was a 50-year-old woman, who will be monitored for 12 weeks to check if the vaccine causes any side effects, and if it produces anti-bodies. Over 5,000 people applied for the trial, but researchers selected only those who were in perfect health conditions.
“I believe in Italian science. I hope that my choice will be useful and that people will be more responsible,” the woman – who requested to remain anonymous – told Italian media.
The vaccine’s trial has been financed by the Lazio region with an investment of 5 million euro -- together with Italy’s Research Ministry -- and was produced by Italian biotech firm ReiThera.
The news comes as Italy registered a further increase in new infections on Sunday, confirming the surging trend in contagions observed over the last month.
The European country reported 1,210 more cases, bringing the total to 259,345. Seven more fatalities were confirmed, raising the death toll to 35,437, with a total of 505,470 people recovering, Health Ministry’s data showed.
Infections in Italy have been on the rise since the beginning of August, with experts blaming holiday goers returning from high-risk destinations and large gatherings of people enjoying the nightlife at the peak of the summer season.
However, on Sunday, Health Minister Roberto Speranza sought to reassure Italians, saying the country won’t require a new lockdown.
The rise in contagions has fuelled worries of a new pandemic wave in September, when Italian schools are set to reopen amid an ongoing debate over the complex security measures needed to avoid new clusters.
Italy has been one of the worst-hit countries globally by the pandemic, but has managed to contain the outbreak thanks to strict lockdown measures that the government started easing only in May.