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Coronavirus Breakthrough: Trials For New Vaccine Set To Begin From Wednesday, Says Wits Scientists

NYAKALLO TEFU

WITS SCIENTISTS have revealed that the university is set to launch the first clinical trials of a potential COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday this week.

Wits University, in partnership with the University of Oxford and the Oxford Jenner Institute, said the first participants in South Africa’s first clinical trials for a vaccine against the novel coronavirus strain would be enrolled.

“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 Shabir Madhi, Professor of Vaccinology at Wits University and Director of the South Africa Medical Research Council (SAMRC).

“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,” said Madhi, who is also the National Research Foundation/Department of Science and Innovation SARChI (South African Research Chairs Initiative) Chair in Vaccine Preventable Diseases, based at the University of the Witwatersrand.

The vaccine was made by adding genetic material – called spike glycoprotein – that is expressed on the surface of SARS-CoV-2 to the ChAdOx1 virus.

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.

In South Africa, at least 80,000 people have already been diagnosed with Covid-19 and more than 1,674 have died from Covid-19 since March, when President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a state of disaster and national lockdown.

By 17 June 2020, South Africa (population: 59 million) contributed to 30% of all diagnosed Covid-19 cases and 23% of all Covid-19 deaths on the African continent (population: 1.34 billion). These statistics emphasise the urgent need for prevention of Covid-19 on the continent.    

In a statement, Wits University said the vaccine is already being evaluated in a large clinical trial in the UK where more than 4,000 participants have already been enrolled.

“The National 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”, said Dr Sandile Buthelezi, the Director General of Health in the National Department of Health.

Prior to launch, the South African study was subject to rigorous review and has been approved by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) and the Human Research Ethics Committee of the University of the Witwatersrand.

After eliciting and considering public comment, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) approved import of the investigational vaccine for use in the trial.

(Compiled by Inside Education staff)

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