Vaccine Trials Begin In Africa As COVID-19 Worries Mount For Continent

Clinical trials are underway in South Africa in the first comprehensive test of a vaccine being developed by Oxford University.
Posted at 4:13 PM, Jun 25, 2020

As photographers record the moment, Junior Mhlongo is injected with an experimental vaccine for the coronavirus. 

Clinical trials are underway in South Africa in the first comprehensive test of a COVID-19 vaccine being developed by Oxford University. Mhlongo stepped up to volunteer, but he says he's anxious.

"I feel a little bit scared. But I want to know what it is going on with this vaccine so that I can tell my friends and others what is going on with the study," Mhlongo said.

The clinical trial, which is also to be conducted in Britain and Brazil, comes as fears mount over the threat of COVID-19 to Africa.

The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reports more than 337,000 coronavirus cases and over 8,500 deaths. Health officials warn that medical facilities on the continent of 1.2 billion people are ill-equipped for the pandemic.

South Africa alone has more than 111,000 COVID-19 cases and 2,200 deaths, with 111 fatalities on Tuesday. 

But concern is also now focused on places like South Sudan. The war-torn country has a decimated health care system. Officials say the country's 2,000 diagnosed cases doesn't indicate the extent of the spread. 

Scores of health care workers, trying to monitor and contain the virus, are getting sick with COVID-19 themselves. One of whom is medical worker Reagan Taban Augustino.

"Yes, as myself as a health practitioner and after I (was) experiencing the symptoms for four days. I was difficult in breathing. I was rushing to look for the oxygen and, in the gate, I was feeling like I'm dying," Augustino said.

At the clinical testing site in South Africa, officials hope the initial tests on 50 volunteers will be a first step toward an effective vaccine to disrupt the spread of the coronavirus.

"We are trying to understand two important issues. The first issue is the safety of the vaccine, especially in terms of what will be common side effects, and the second issue is how well the body mounts an immune response against the vaccine," Shabir Madhi, Professor of Vaccinology at Wits University, said.

Cameroon, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya — four other African countries with laboratory capability — are now hoping to join South African in clinical trials for a COVID-19 vaccine.