The first clinical trial for a vaccine against COVID-19 has been going on in South Africa as well as the UK and Brazil where the same vaccine is being used, according to the developer, the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute in the UK.
Over 4,000 participants are already enrolled in the UK test and enrolment of an additional 10,000 participants is planned, the university said.
The University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa is collaborating with Oxford University and the Oxford Vaccine Group in the South African trial.
Oxford University said in a statement: “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.
“The technical name of the vaccine is ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, as it is made from a virus called ChAdOx1, which is a weakened and non-replicating version of a common cold virus (adenovirus).
“The vaccine has been engineered to express the SARS-CoV-2 spike in protein,” the statement added.
Shabir Madhi, Professor of Vaccinology at Wits University, who is leading the South African trial that is being run at multiple sites in the country, said: “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.”
The first participants in the trial began receiving the vaccine last week after screening of participants the previous week.
Professor Andrew Pollard, Chief investigator of the Oxford Vaccine Trial at Oxford University said: “We are delighted to be working with the talented team of investigators at Wits University on the first COVID-19 vaccine trial on the African continent, as researchers and scientists around the world collaborate on clinical development work with unprecedented urgency to combat the global threat to human health that is coronavirus.”
Dr Sandile Buthelezi, the Director General of Health in South Africa’s National Department of Health, said: “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. “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.”
Oxford University said that before the launch of the South African study, it was subjected 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”.
In South Africa, at least 80,000 people have already been diagnosed with COVID-19 and more than 1,674 have died from it since March when President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a state of disaster and national lockdown.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has stressed that creating a safe and viable vaccine is not the only challenge ahead for a successful programme that eradicates COVID-19, amid global concerns about the efficacy of a vaccine.
Dr Michael J. Ryan, Chief Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said once a vaccine was developed and deemed safe, its manufacture must be quickly scaled up to cover the world's 7.8 billion people.
“We’ve seen a lot of problems with vaccine acceptance, so when we look right along the value chain of vaccine development, we’re very focused on the product development, and that’s very important.
“But there are whole ranges of things that need to be done downstream to make the use, the scale-up and allocation of any product successful in public health terms".
Dr Ryan said equity would also be key because as long as the virus circulated, the world faced the risk of resurgence and additional fatalities.
"There are 193 or 194 or more countries and populations and peoples that share this planet," Dr Ryan said.
"They all deserve to have access to the benefits of a vaccine".
The WHO has therefore launched a global initiative to create equitable access to COVID-19 drugs and vaccines.
The Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator will help "speed up and harmonise" the development, production and equitable distribution of vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics for COVID-19, according to the WHO.
“Countries, health partners, manufacturers, and the private sector must act together and ensure that the fruits of science and research can benefit everybody," said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.
The WHO said that in the past, “even when tools to fight outbreaks have been available, they haven't always been equally available to all”, citing the early days of HIV treatment and the deployment of vaccines against the H1N1 outbreak in 2009.
"We cannot allow that to happen", Dr Tedros said.
"This inequity is unacceptable – all tools to address COVID-19 must be available to all.
“In the fight against COVID-19, no one should be left behind."