SA launches Covid-19 vaccine trial led by two women

Phase three of the trial has commenced, with 60 000 volunteers expected to participate.

The country’s latest and third Covid-19 vaccine trial has been launched, with two women leading the research to experiment on protecting those who contract the virus.

Phase three of the Ensemble vaccine trial with Janssen Pharmaceutica, owned by Johnson & Johnson started on Monday with 60,000 adult volunteers expected to enrol.

The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) is participating in the trial while joining the Department of Science and Innovation in supporting community engagement for the vaccine development.

Leading the large-scale, randomised, double-blinded and placebo-controlled clinical trial are two female scientists – SAMRC CEO Professor Glenda Gray and deputy director at Desmond Tutu HIV Centre, Linda-Gail Bekker.

“This is the first international Covid-19 vaccine trial sponsored by Operation Warp Speed and the NIH-supported Coronavirus Prevention Network [CoVPN]. It builds upon the longstanding collaborations in HIV that we have had with the citizens and investigators of South Africa,” said principal investigator of the CoVPN operations centre in Seattle, Professor Larry Corey.

The trial will also include people with and without comorbidities, including those infected with HIV and on stable medication.

About 215 clinical research sites are participating, including 31 in South Africa. Clinical trial sites in South Africa will include seven provinces with disease prevalence, namely Gauteng, North West, Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Free State.

“It’s important that South Africa participates in vaccine trials and contributes to the global cause, to ascertain the safety and the efficacy of the various vaccine candidates,” said Bekker.

Advocacy group and partner of the Vaccine Advocacy Resource Group, African Alliance commended researchers for the giant leap as Africa had historically had to wait for long durations to get medicines and vaccines.

South Africa was now one of nine countries, including the US, Argentina and Mexico, which would test the vaccine, said African Alliance head Tian Johnson.

“The world desperately needs effective vaccines and medicines to treat Covid-19, and the quest to develop these has pushed science to find new and faster ways of finding them. But in the rush to find effective solutions to Covid-19, we cannot afford to leave communities behind, and their involvement cannot be an afterthought for researchers,” said Johnson.

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