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South Africa and Oxford: continent's first trials for COVID-19 vaccine

Oxford University rolled out Africa’s first human trials for a potential vaccine against the current COVID-19 in South Africa just yesterday, as cases continue to rise, and concerns too over potential access to life-saving treatments.

The trial, conducted with the local partner University of the Witwatersrand, will consist of 2,000 volunteers from 18 to 65 years of age, including some HIV positive patients, who will be monitored for 12 months after the vaccination to assess how well the vaccine guards against Coronavirus.

“Once 60% of the population, especially the adult population, becomes immune, we expect that effective reproductive rate to go under 1, which means the virus will still be around circulating, but its chain of transmission will be interrupted,” said Shabir Madhi, professor of vaccinology at Wits University and leader of the project trial.

A volunteer receives an injection from a medical worker during the country's first human clinical trial for a potential vaccine against the novel coronavirus, in Soweto. Image credit Yahoo News

Hopes are that South Africa’s involvement in vaccine trials will ensure that the entire continent will have access to an affordable vaccine without being left at the back of the queue.

Specifically, South Africa is the second country outside of the United Kingdom to take part in the Oxford trial after that Brazil -now the world’s most hit country by the pandemic- launched its study on Wednesday.

The ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine, also known as AZD1222, was originally developed by Oxford University scientists in partnership with an Italian laboratory based in Rome, who is now working with AstraZeneca on development and production.

There are over 4,000 participants already enrolled in the UK, with an additional 10,000 participants planned, the university said in a statement yesterday.

Also, a larger study of the same vaccine in up to 30,000 participants is planned in the United States, as the deaths and infected cases keep being unrested.

A medical worker addresses some of the first vaccine volunteers at the Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital, in Soweto, Johannesburg. Image credit SIPHIWE SIBEKO, The Associated Press

South Africa, which last month began a phased easing of its coronavirus lockdown, has the highest rate of infections on within the African continent, with confirmed cases at over 100,000 and deaths at more than 2,000.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that Africa could be the next epicentre of the pandemic.

Trying out a new medical intervention in Africa always rings alarm bells because of a history of big pharmaceutical companies using Africans as guinea pigs.

“I feel a little bit nervous, but I want to know what is going on with this vaccine so that I can tell my friends and others,” declared Junior Mhlongo, a volunteer who received the vaccine at a hospital in Johannesburg.

Officially, there are currently no approved vaccines or treatments for COVID-19, but more than a dozen vaccines from more than 100 candidates globally are being tested in humans already.


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