THE Oxford University is running COVID-19 Vaccine Clinical Trials in collaboration with Wits University of South Africa. The vaccine was developed at the University of Oxford’s Oxford Jenner Institute and is currently on trial in the UK. Over 4 000 participants are already enrolled into the clinical trial and enrolment of an additional 10 000 participants is planned. The clinical trials are running in the UK, Brazil and South Africa.
Why South Africa for vaccine trials?
South Africa is the epicentre of COVID-19 in Africa.
With 60% of the infections in Africa reported in SA, it therefore is suitable.
HIV vaccine trials
Human Immuno Virus (HIV)
In 1980 in San Francisco, US, a man was reported at the Centre for Diseases Control (CDC) to have HIV. (History had noted the virus in the 1920s when it crossed from chimpanzees to humans in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central Africa.)
HIV mutates, making the virus complex with the red blood cells overrunning the white blood cells, rendering the body no defence, a host of infections have a playing field. HIV had the global village weeping,
up to today, an anti-HIV vaccine is not yet on the market.
Science and research has been working round the clock.
"There were approximately 38 million people across the globe with HIV/AIDS in 2019. Of these, 36.2 million were adults and 1.8 million were children (<15 years old)," UNAIDS Report.
Why Southern Africa?
Southern Africa carries the global HIV burden. South Africa carries 60% of COVID-19 infections in Africa too. In fact, the HIV vaccine trials of HVTN also known as Uhambo which were stopped end of February 2020, took place in South Africa again. The trials were stopped because the vaccine was found not to be effective in stopping HIV acquisition.
A local researcher with the University of Zimbabwe College of Health Sciences- Clinical Trials Research Centre (UZ-CHS-CTRC), Dr Portia Hunidzarira walked health writers along the vaccine roadmap.
“Vaccines take long to be rolled out as safe for human use. Despite the HVTN 702 vaccine being stopped, a lot has been learnt from the trial. It was found that it did not prevent HIV hence it was stopped. This trial, HVTN 702 also known as Uhambo is a Phase 2B/3 study. Uhambo was testing a regimen adapted from the vaccine strategy tested in the RV144 Thailand. It sought to boost the Thai vaccine trial which showed about 31 percent lower infection rate among volunteers who received the vaccine versus those who received the placebo. With Uhambo, the infection rate did not give the expected result hence it was stopped following a scheduled review by an independent data and safety monitoring board,” said Dr Hunidzarira.
“Uhambo had 5 407 participants selected randomly between the ages of 18-35 years. They were given six injections over 18 months. A total 252 HIV infections was reported in the trial. Of this, 129 were on the effective vaccine arm, with 123 on the placebo. All study participants received
a comprehensive HIV prevention package which included Pre exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and other prevention methods were offered,” said Dr Hunidzarira.
For a layman, a trial has two arms, a vaccine on one hand and on the other hand, a placebo.
Wikipedia defines a placebo as saline based water solution.
Participants in any trial are blinded with users not in the know. They are unblinded and informed after a trial.
Some people may argue that the HVTN 702 clinical trial was a failure, however, research views it as a success. It informed the path to be taken on further studies.
With no HIV vaccine 4 decades after the first noted San Francisco case, research is in a race to finding one.
With COVID-19 setting the world into cemetery in 2020, a vaccine is the answer, its work round the clock for research and science.
For now take all the measures seriously. We are not yet out of the woods.
● In future, I will look into another arm of the HIV clinical trials taking place in Zimbabwe.