South Africa announced Tuesday that it will begin its first clinical trial this week for a vaccine against the novel coronavirus.
The vaccine, known as ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, was developed by the Oxford Jenner Institute and it is already being evaluated in Britain, where 4,000 participants have signed up for the trial.
South Africa has set out to vaccinate 2,000 people with the vaccine. Fifty of the candidates have HIV.
Participants from across Africa will be vaccinated in the South African-led trial, researchers said during a virtual news conference hosted at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg.
“This is a landmark moment for South Africa and Africa at this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Shabir Madhi, Professor of Vaccinology at Wits University and director of the South Africa Medical Research Council (SAMRC) Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics Research Unit (VIDA), who is leading the trial.
“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,” Madhi said.
The school is collaborating with the University of Oxford and the Oxford Jenner Institute on the trial.
The vaccine being used in the trial is the same one used in the UK and Brazil, according to a statement posted on Wits’ website.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize echoed Madhi’s concerns, warning that South Africa was going through a “devastating storm” expected to peak “during the cold winter months”.
At the opening of a field hospital in the Eastern Cape province, Mkhize said more than half of South Africa’s population may be infected with the deadly virus.
“Our scientific estimation is that 60 to 70 percent of our population may be infected by coronavirus,” the minister said at the launch on Tuesday, adding that hospitalisation rates remained lower than anticipated.
South Africa’s coronavirus cases jumped to more than 100,000 on Monday, while the number of related deaths approached 2,000.
Officials implemented a strict nationwide lockdown on March 27 but in recent weeks, confinement measures are being gradually phased out to allow business to pick up and limit the damage to an already ailing economy.