SA starts COVID-19 vaccine trial this week


As infection surges in Lesotho through cases imported from the republic


JOHANNESBURG – The director of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics Research Unit (VIDA), Professor Shabir Madhi, on Tuesday announced that the country will this week start the first COVID-19 clinical trial.

Shabir made the remarks on Tuesday in a virtual press conference hosted by South Africa’s Witwatersrand University to launch the trial. 

The South African Ox1Cov-19 Vaccine VIDA-Trial is intended to find a vaccine that will prevent infection by SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. 

Shabir, who is also a professor of Vaccinology at the Witwatersrand University, said they are working with the University of Oxford and the Oxford Jenner Institute on the trial, adding that the trial would be done at various parts in the country.

He said, “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.

This is a landmark moment for South Africa and Africa at this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we enter the winter season in South Africa and pressure increases on public hospitals, now more than ever we need a vaccine to prevent infection by COVID-19.”

Wits University Vice-Principal and Deputy Vice Chancellor , Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, who facilitated the virtual press conference, said they identified vaccinology as a key institutional flagship project in 2016.

He said, “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.”

South African Health Products Regulatory Authority chairperson, Helen Rees, said at the same conference that they reviewed and approved the trial.

Rees, who is also Executive Director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, said they want more research in the field.

“It is essential that vaccine studies are performed in the Southern hemisphere countries, including in the African region, concurrently with studies in northern hemisphere countries. This allows evaluation of the efficacy and safety of candidate vaccines to be assessed in a global context, failing which the introduction of many life-saving vaccines into public immunization programmes for low-middle income countries frequently lags behind those in high-income countries,” he said.

Brazil is about to start the same trial while the United Kingdom has already enrolled over 4 000 participants for the same project.  More than 30 000 participants are being planned for trials in the United States. 

The Director General of Health in the National Department of Health, Dr Sandile Buthelelzi, welcomed the developments. 

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, he continued. 

There are currently over 100 candidate COVID-19 vaccines in development around the world; but this South African trial which is the first of its kind in the continent should be good news to Lesotho and other countries in the region. 

Lesotho’s COVID-19 tests are done at South Africa’s National Institute For Communicable Diseases, from where the Ministry of Health in the country on Monday reported the detection of five new additional COVID-19 cases – three Basotho with travel history to South Africa, one Mosotho with no travel history and a South African national.

The number of cumulative cases has, as a result, risen to 17, while recoveries remain at two. 

The ministry, through the National Emergency Command Centre (NECC), has also confirmed having received reports from its Zimbabwe counterpart that the country has recorded four COVID-19 imported from Lesotho.

Lesotho recorded its first confirmed COVID-19 case on May 13, only a week after the country lifted its national lockdown that had been in place beginning March 29, and made Lesotho the last of the 54 African states to confirm and report an infection.


As of Tuesday South Africa stood at 102 000 cumulative  number of confirmed cases, with 53 444 recoveries and 1 001 deaths. 1.4 million people had been tested for the virus since it was first detected in the country in April.

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