Wits Covid-19 vaccine trial to begin Wednesday

At Novavax labs in Rockville, Maryland, Dr. Nita Patel, Director of antibody discovery and vaccine development, lifts a vial with a potential COVID-19 vaccine.. AFP/File/ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS

There are approximately 115 vaccines that are currently being produced in Gauteng and Western Cape.

University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) announced on Tuesday, 23 June that it was set to begin the first clinical trial in South Africa for a Covid-19 vaccine.

Wits said 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.

Wits’ vaccinology professor and director of the South Africa Medical Research Council (SAMRC) Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics Research Unit (VIDA), Shabir Madhi will lead the vaccine trial in South Africa.

Madhi said that the university was collaborating with the University of Oxford and the Oxford Jenner Institute on the South African trial.

“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 at the launch of the vaccine trial.

“We began screening participants for the South African Oxford-1-Covid-19 vaccine trial last week and the first participants will be vaccinated this week,” he continued.

The professor said there were approximately 115 vaccines that were currently being produced in Gauteng and Western Cape while the majority were in the clinical stages.

“Six vaccines are currently in human studies and one will be used in South Africa. So we can expect roughly five vaccines to be licenced,” he said.

Madhi also confirmed that SAMRC and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation were behind the funding of the trial.

“The total cost of the study is R150 million. The outcomes of this particular study will be known by the end of the year and the vaccine if successful may become available in quarter-3 of 2021,” he added.

He further said that the trials would consist of three groups which of the first group would begin on Wednesday, 24 June.

“We are hoping to enrol the first subject tomorrow and plan on increasing that to 2,000 subjects over two months,” he said.

Speaking on the increasing numbers of Covid-19 cases with the gradual lifting of the lockdown, Madhi said the infection wave would last over into 2021 and possibly 2022.

“In all likelihood, we will experience what has been experienced in a lot of the European countries where there are multiple waves of infection. This can last for the next 12 to 24 months, he said.

Wits deputy vice-chancellor of the research and postgraduate affairs, professor Zeblon Vilakazi said the university had identified vaccinology as an important project.

“Wits University identified vaccinology as a key institutional flagship project in 2016. Vaccines are amongst the most powerful tools to mitigate life-threatening diseases. Without a vaccine against Covid-19, there will likely be ongoing contagion, causing severe illness and death. Wits is committed to developing a vaccine to save lives in collaboration with the University of Oxford,” he said.

Director-general at the national department of health, Dr Sandile Buthelezi said the department fully supported the launch of the trials.

“The department of health is excited at the launch of this vaccine trial, which will go a long way to cement South Africa’s leadership in the scientific space. With Covid-19 infections increasing every day, the development of the vaccine will be the last solution in the long term, and we are fully behind the team leading this trial,” he said.

As of Tuesday morning, the cumulative number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in South Africa has breached the 100,000 mark at 101,590.

A total of 1,353,176 tests have been completed, of which 25,116 new tests are reported, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said in a statement.

“Regrettably, we report a further 61 Covid-19 related deaths – one from Limpopo, three from KwaZulu Natal, 18 from Eastern Cape and 39 from Western Cape. This brings the total deaths to 1,991.

“We wish to express our condolences to the loved ones of the departed and thank the healthcare workers who treated the deceased,” he said.

The mortality rate is 2% while the number of recoveries is 53,130, which translates to a recovery rate of 52.6%.

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