WITS UNIVERSITY BEGINS SA’S FIRST COVID-19 VACCINE TRIAL – SAVIOUR OR SORROW?

The first Covid-19 vaccine trial in South Africa has begun this week at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits), in collaboration with the University of Oxford and the Oxford Jenner Institute. Will it save us or will many lives be lost in the process.

The institution said the South African Vaccine VIDA-Trial aims to find a vaccine that will prevent infection by SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. By vaccinating volunteers, scientists hope to make the human body recognise and develop an immune response that is develop antibodies to the spike glycoprotein that will help stop the SARS-CoV-2 virus from entering human cells and cause Covid-19.

The research and development is the first for the continent and is led by the Medical Research Council and Wits. 2,000 participants between the ages of 18 and 65 will form part of the country’s trials. The first group will consist of 50 HIV negative people who will be vaccinated this week. Later this month, another group of people will be added. They will receive different and stronger dosages of the vaccine. Vaccinology at Wits Professor Shabir Madhi said the testing groups will be monitored for 12 months.

After the announcement yesterday, social media was abuzz. Some social media users were excited and said that finally there is hope and they are proud of the scientists who worked hard to develop the untested vaccine. Others are, however, against the vaccine. They took issue with the trials occurring in South Africa instead of United States of America (USA) where there are high numbers of people infected with coronavirus and where the vaccine is funded by Bill Gates. Some even said the vaccine is here wipe out black people.

Scientists all around the world have been hard at work trying to find the cure for Covid-19. I don’t think the trials are brought to destroy lives of Africans. Instead, I believe they are here to help to eliminate the spread of the coronavirus. I am reminded of the Antiretroviral (ARV) treatments that were introduced in South Africa in 2004. There was a lengthy battle between activists and former President Thabo Mbeki and Health Minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who both questioned the link between HIV and AIDS, and ARV’s effectiveness.

Today, however, South Africa has the biggest ARV treatment programme in the world. About 4.2 million people have received the life-saving treatment. When ARVs were introduced patients came back from the brink of death and HIV positive patients in hospitals stopped dying. It is clear that ARVs have saved many lives.

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In a nutshell, the Cov-19 Vaccine VIDA-Trial is here to save South Africans. The researchers and scientists know what they are doing.

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