Wits clinicians lead from the front in vaccine trial

Wits University this week said senior clinicians at its faculty of health sciences have volunteered to participate in SA’s first COVID-19 vaccine trial. The volunteers were screened on July 10 and those found eligible to participate in the trail were vaccinated on July 14 at a trial site in Soweto.

Wits professor of vaccinology, Shabir Madhi, who leads the South African COVID-19 vaccine trial, said the legacy of vaccines shows that they don’t necessarily work similarly across different populations.

“We really need to generate data applicable to the local context. A number of past vaccines have been shown to be highly effective in high-income settings, but when evaluated in low- and middle-income settings [like South Africa], the vaccines were found to be much less effective and, at times, not effective at all,” said Madhi.


“If we want to make informed decisions at an early stage about whether these vaccines are going to benefit people in South Africa, it’s critical that we undertake the clinical evaluation during the start of the entire programme. Waiting for results to come in from other studies would just lead to a lag in terms constitution of the timing when vaccines would be introduced in South Africa as well as other low- and middle-income countries.”

Wits announced last month a COVID-19 vaccine trial it is conducting in collaboration with the UK-based Oxford University. Dr June Fabian, nephrologist at the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre, said she volunteered for the trial to support local scientists to do world-class science.

“I think it’s amazing that South Africa is a COVID-19 vaccine trial site and to be a part of that is very exciting. We must support each other as the Wits community and also support our colleagues,” Fabian said. The World Health Organisation (WHO) Africa chief has called for more African countries to join South Africa in conducting COVID-19 vaccine trials. “I encourage more countries in the region to join these trials so that the contexts and immune response of populations in Africa are factored into studies,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa.

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