South Africa Vaccine Study Launches

South African Ox1Cov-19 Vaccine VIDA-Trial is evaluating the AZD1222 vaccine
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The South African Ox1Cov-19 Vaccine VIDA-Trial for a vaccine against COVID-19 disease will vaccinate participants this week.

Wits University announced on June 23, 2020, it is collaborating with the University of Oxford and the Oxford Jenner Institute on the South African study.

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, leads the South African Ox1Cov-19 Vaccine VIDA-Trial.

This vaccine, AZD1222, formerly known as ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, was made by adding genetic material - called spike glycoprotein - that is expressed on the surface of SARS-CoV-2 to the ChAdOx1 virus.

By vaccinating volunteers with AZD1222, scientists hope to make the human body recognize and develop an immune response (develop antibodies) to the spike glycoprotein that will help stop the SARS-CoV-2 virus from entering human cells and causing COVID-19.

The AZD1222 vaccine was developed at the Oxford Jenner Institute and is currently on trial in the UK, where over 4,000 participants are already enrolled in the clinical trial, and enrolment of an additional 10,000 participants is planned.

The vaccine being used in the South African trial is the same as that being used in the UK and Brazil.

In South Africa, about 1,600 people have died from COVID-19 since March, when the President declared a state of disaster and national lockdown.

By June 17, 2020, South Africa, with a population of 59 million has contributed to 30% of all diagnosed COVID-19 cases.

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

"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," says Madhi, who is also the National Research Foundation/Department of Science and Innovation South African Research Chairs Initiative Chair in Vaccine-Preventable Diseases, based at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Prior to launch, the South African study was subject to rigorous review and has been approved by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) and the Human Research Ethics Committee of the University of the Witwatersrand.

"It is essential that vaccine studies are performed in southern hemisphere countries, including in the African region, concurrently with studies in northern hemisphere countries," said Professor Helen Rees, Chair of SAHPRA and Executive Director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute.

"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 programs for low-middle income countries frequently lags behind those in high-income countries."

The technical name of the AZD1222 vaccine is ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, as it is made from a virus called ChAdOx1, which is a weakened and non-replicating version of a common cold virus. The vaccine has been engineered to express the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.

The vaccine was made by adding genetic material - called spike glycoprotein - that is expressed on the surface of SARS-CoV-2 to the ChAdOx1 virus.

This spike glycoprotein is usually found on the surface of the novel coronavirus and is what gives the coronavirus its distinct spiky appearance.

These spikes play an essential role in laying a path for infection by the coronavirus. The virus that causes COVID-19 uses this spike protein to bind to ACE2 receptors on human cells.

ACE2 is a protein on the surface of many cell types. It is an enzyme that generates small proteins that then go on to regulate functions in the cell. In this way, the virus gains entry to the cells in the human body and causes Covid-19 infection.

Researchers have shown that antibodies produced against sections of the spike protein after natural infection are able to neutralize (kill) the virus when tested in the laboratory.

Dr. Sandile Buthelezi, the Director-General of Health in the National Department of Health, said: "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."

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