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Covid-19 vaccine trial in SA by Wits given green light

Image: 123RF/Jarun Ontakrai

The first Covid-19 vaccine trial to be greenlighted in Africa has officially begun in South Africa in the global fight to beat the coronavirus pandemic.

Wits University in collaboration with Oxford University and the Oxford Jenner Institute are focusing on developing a vaccine that will also be safe to use for people living with HIV.

The South African Ox1Cov-19 Vaccine VIDA-Trial aims to find a vaccine that will prevent infection by SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. Two thousand participants between the ages of 18-65 are taking part with fifty participants being HIV positive.

Professor Shabir Madhi is the principal investigator in the study which is being led by South African scientists with assistance from Oxford University.

“This is a landmark moment for South Africa and Africa at this stage of the Covid-19 pandemic. As we enter winter in South Africa and pressure increases on public hospitals, now more than ever we need a vaccine to prevent infection by Covid-19,” said Madhi

The trial is being funded by the South African Medical Research Council and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Madhi said the first phase has started in the United Kingdom with 4,000 participants, with 2000 people in the second phase in SA and the third phase being in Brazil.

The trial will also be taken to other countries such as the United States.  

The participants will be monitored over a period of 12 months by doctors to inestigate if they have any type of respiratory illness and Covid-19.

Madhi said the trial is being monitored by the ethics committees from Wits and Oxford as well as the department of agriculture, forestry & fisheries which has to greenlight the vaccine being shipped here.

 "The total cost of the South African study is about R150-million," Madhi said.

He said the outcome of the study could be available as early as the end of the year.

"It will probably be ready in the third quarter of 2021," he said.

However, this does not mean there will be enough of the vaccine for everyone by then because of the lengthy process.

Professor Helen Rees, Chair of SAHPRA and Executive Director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute said it is important for vaccine trials to be done in Africa to ensure they are sutiable for our population.

“It is essential that vaccine studies are performed in southern hemisphere countries, including in the African region, concurrently with studies in northern hemisphere countries.”

 “This allows evaluation of the efficacy and safety of candidate vaccines to be assessed in a global context, failing which the introduction of many life-saving vaccines into public immunization programmes for low-middle income countries frequently lags behind those in high-income countries,” she said.

Director-general of the department of health Dr Sandile Buthelezi said they are excited about the prospects of the possible vaccine. 

"We are very proud SA has been placed at the centre stage of science," he said. 


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